KOUROUSSA in Guinea, West Africa, my birthplace and the traditional home of my forebears, is a typical Malinke village; the Djeliba River which flows past it dominates the life of its mainly agricultural population. Kouroussa is situated some 700 kilometres from the coast and is reached by train or automobile.
In my childhood, Kouroussa was a cluster of round banco (clay-walled) huts topped by conical thatched roofs. The village housed various kapila, or extended families, bound together by a love that welded them into united, close-knit groups.
From my studies of the oral tradition of West Africa, undertaken over the past twenty years, I know today that Tabon Wana Fran Camara was an ancestor of mine. He was a contemporary of the great kings and leaders of the Mandingo, a people formed of a confederation of tribes which constituted the basis of the Malian empire.
According to our elders, the snake spirit of our race belonged first to Fran Camara and made him a skilled and respected craftsman. As a child I was taken by my father to see the snake spirit whom I got to know very well. The source of my father's skill in the shaping of wood and the working of metal, the snake spirit was also his trusted adviser in the art of controlling his colleagues.
In those days men protected themselves with all manner of greegrees (charms); it was a time of revealers of things hidden, and of healers, some of whom could really heal.
A child in Kouroussa did not belong to his parents but to his lineage group which was responsible for him and took care of his education. The individual remained linked to the group which was held to have given him life, and it was within the group that he continued to live.
This solidarity, or rather this source of life, made itself felt on important occasions. …