I have written this post a while ago for my other blog. But its true place is here. Amadou Hampâté Bâ was one of the great and unforgettable Malians, who dedicated his life and work to a topic that is close to my heart – the oral tradition in Africa and the importance of the wisdom of the elders in the society. I will save my thoughts on this for the next post and let him talk for himself here.
In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning – spoken by Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1960 at UNESCO
“I graduated from the great university of the Spoken Word taught in the shade of baobab trees.”
“The people of Black race, as they are not peoples with a tradition of written literature, have developed the art of speech in a most special manner. While it is not written, their literature is not less beautiful. How many poems, epics, historic and chilvalrous narratives, didatic tales, myths and legends of egregious literary style have so been transmitted through centuries, carried by the prodigious memory of the men with an oral tradition’s, passionately in love with beautiful language and almost all poets.”
Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1985
” If you know that you do not know, then you will know”
All the proverbs are from Amadou Hampâté Bâ and the pictures are from Dr.Juergen Schlichting, my uncle and mentor, a street photographer and writer who was born in 1936. His extraordinary work covers the 1950’s to the 1980’s. The photos in this post were taken by him during a trip through East Africa in 1959. His images complement perfectly the quotes of Amadou Hampâté Bâ. The life of this great African writer fascinates me over and over again. For the ones who would like to read more about him I have compiled a small summary below.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ was born to an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon territory and the capital of the precolonial Masina Empire (Mali). After his father’s death, he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam of the Toucouleur ethnic group. He first attended the Qur’anic school run by Tierno Bokar a dignitary of the Tijaniyyah brotherhood, then transferred to a French school at Bandiagara, then to one at Djenne. In 1915, he ran away from school and rejoined his mother at Kati, where he resumed his studies. In 1921, he turned down entry into the école normale in Goree. As a punishment, the governor appointed him to Quagadougou with the role he later described as that of “an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer”. From 1922 to 1932, he filled several posts in the colonial administration in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso and from 1932 to 1942 in Bamako. In 1933, he took a six month leave to visit Tierno Bokar, his spiritual leader.
In 1942, he was appointed to the Institut Francais d”Afrique Noire (IFAN, French Institute of Black Africa) in Dakar thanks to the benevolence of Theodore Monod, its director. At IFAN, he made ethnological surveys and collected traditions. For 15 years he devoted himself to research, which would later lead to the publication of his work L’Empire peul de Macina (The Fula Empire of Macina). In 1951, he obtained a UNESCO grant, allowing him to travel to Paris and meet with intellectuals from Africanist circles.
With Mali’s independence in 1960, Bâ founded the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako, and represented his country at the UNESCO general conferences. In 1962, he was elected to UNESCO’s executive council, and in 1966 he helped establish a unified system for the transcription of African languages.His term in the executive council ended in 1970, and he devoted the remaining years of his life to research and writing. In 1971, he moved to the Marcory suburb of Abidjan, and worked on classifying the archives of West African oral tradition that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime, as well as writing his memoirs (Amkoullel l’enfant peul and Oui mon commandant!, both published posthumously).Wikipedia