Tongues That Span the Centuries

By Hampate Ba, Amadou | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

Tongues That Span the Centuries


Hampate Ba, Amadou, UNESCO Courier


Tongues that span the centuries

THE Bambara tradition of the Komo (one of the great initiation schools of the Mande group of peoples of Mali) teaches that the Word, Kuma, is a fundamental force emanating from the Supreme Being himself--Maa Ngala, creator of all things. It is the instrument of creation: "That which Maa Ngala says, is!' proclaims the cantor, the singing priest of the god Komo.

The story of Genesis used to be taught during the sixty-three-day retreat imposed on the circumcised in their twenty-first year, and then twenty-one years were spent in deeper and deeper study of it.

After the initiation, the recital of the primordial genesis would begin:

"There was nothing except a Being,

That Being was a living Emptiness,

Brooding potentially over contingent existences.

Infinite Time was the Abode of that One Being.

The One Being gave himself the name Maa Ngala.

Maa Ngala wished to be known.

So he created Fan,

A wondrous Egg with nine divisions,

And into it he introduced the nine fundamental

States of existence.

"When this primordial Egg came to hatch, it gave birth to twenty marvellous beings that made up the whole of the universe, the sum total of existing forces and possible knowledge.

"But alas! None of those first twenty creatures proved fit to become the interlocutor (Kuma-nyon) that Maa Ngala had craved.

"So he took a bit of each of these twenty existing creatures and mixed them; and then, blowing a spark of his own fiery breath into the mixture, he created a new Being, Man, to whom he gave a part of his own name: Maa. …

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