Table of Contents: African

Cinematic Griot [mostly Sonhay (except chapter 11)]





Life in the field



Worlds of the ancestors



Migrations to new worlds



Spirits of power









Tutu & Bitti





p. xiii funeral for a zima

"zima (possession priests) of Niamey ... . When a zima dies, ... all the dead zima’s initiates repair to the bush. Elders pour water and powdered tree bark into a large clay jar. They recite incantations over the jar, then give each of the initiates a portion of the mixture. ... When the mixture is completely distributed the elders break the jar ... . ... Then the initiates return to the dead zima’s compound, where his possession costumes and objects are stored. Elders take fresh milk and spray it over the objects to cleanse them. So cleansed, ... the dead zima’s spirits ... will seek new mediums to house their power. The air fills with the wail of the monochord violin and the pulsing clacks of the gourd drum. When the spirits come, they may name a new zima".

p. 16 bullroarer-music for serpent god

"The initiates also prepared ... the altar of Diounou Serou, the first ancestor, who died and was reincarnated as a serpent. ... At sunset the bull-roarers whipped through the air, bringing ... the voices of the past. The next day all the men of the village saw the four towering masks ... : two painted black, red and white to represent the dead mythical serpent, and two painted red and white to symbolize the serpent’s rebirth."

pp. 30-31 funerals involving spirit-medium possessed by Dongo

p. 30

Funeral for "death by lightning. Head priestess of the fishermen of Niamey ... left for ... to ... pour fresh milk over the ... cadavers to purify them for burial. Then ... possession music : the piercing wail of the monochord violin and the clack-roll-clack of the gourd drums. ... Soon the accused murdered, Dongo, roared into the body of his medium, a frail old woman wrapped in indigo cloth".

p. 31

"In ... a fishing village now incorporated into greater Niamey, a fisherman had drowned in the waters of the Niger during a storm. ... Sharp music cut through the air as spirited dancers kicked ... the possession dance grounds. When Songo took his medium’s body, [the priestess] asked him and his "mother," Harakoy Dikko (goddess of the Niger River), to explain the tragedy."

p. 54 legend

"The sohanci ... say, however, that Sonni Ali Ber gave his soldiers amulets that rendered them invisible, enabling them to fly or to change themselves into serpents. Legend has it that Sonni Ali Ber could transform himself and his magnificent horse, Zinzinbadou, into vultures." "Sonni Ali Ber, like his predecessors, was ... a member of the Kharedjite sect." "Sonni Ali’s death in 1491".

p. 70 terms used [in Gold Coast] for other nationalities







northern Dahomey


northern Togo


p. 73 types of prostitutes









coast [Gold Coast]




p. 85 deities & their worshippers


their deities


"Genji Ba, the Black Spirits"


the Do

sorko ("praise singers")

"the Tooru spirits, especially Dongo, the thunder deity."

gow (huntsmen)

"the Atakurma, the elves of the bush"

p. 87 soul; cults

"The Songhay elders say that a human being consists of flesh (ga), the life force (hundi), and the double (bia).

"cults" among the Sonhay :-


cult of the __

which is __









"limited to the families of magicians"


"spirit possession"




"the sohanci, attempt to accumulate power"

p. 87-88 myth in spirit-possession cult

p. 87

"Faran Maka Bote, the ancestor of the sorko (fisherman) ... was the first master of the spirits. Faran’s father was an ordinary fisherman, but his mother, Maka, was a river genie. Using her supernatural prowess, Maka transformed a nasty crocodile-genie, Zirbin Sanghay Moyo, into an iron harpoon, which she gave to her son. ...

p. 88

Faran’s rule ... was soon challenged by Zinkibaru, a river genie whose sweet lute controlled the river spirits ... . ... Though Maka complained that Faran was empty-headed, she taught him an incantation to overpower Zinkibaru ... . ... Faran seized Zinkibaru’s mesmerizing guitar and took captive the river spirits with their monochord violins and gourd drums. ... Dongo taught Faran spirit praise poetry and spat on the dead to transform them into the living. He said that from that day forward the spirits would be invisible to human beings."

p. 90 the 3 sacred dance-movements; sacred objects


description of it


"the dancers sway to a slow, melodic rhythm as they move counterclockwise in a circle"


"one dancer, facing the musicians, moves toward them driven by a more rapid rhythm"


"the dancer, directly in front of the musicians, moves head and arms to the rhythm, which begins slowly and gradually increases in tempo until the onset of the possession."

pp. 91-92 membership-categories in spirit-possession cult







the faithful

"make an offering to the spirits"








"men and women are spirit mediums who have been initiated into a spirit-possession troupe."



"tranquil" women

"women who, though never possessed, ... help organize festivals and ... prepare food for the spirits."




"priests of the possession troupes."




"men and women are the guardians of sacred spirit houses that existed in Begoro Tondo and still exist in Wanzerbe and Simiri. ... the position is ... hereditary."




"patrilineal descendants of Faran Maka Bote, are ... the specialized priests of the Tooru spirits."

pp. 93-94 magic-spells; plants; spirit-familiars

p. 93

"The spell or korte is the foundation of the sohanci’s practice. ... Ndebbi, the messenger to the distant God, seems to place a central role in casting spells. When sohanci recite their various incantations, they recite them to Ndebbi, not to God or the spirits. {Likewise, in Hellenistic magical spells, Hermes (the messenger-god) is most commonly invoked : already in the Homeric Hymns Hermes in engaged in "warding off black magic spells." (HL)}

The magicians, who are usually men, use guides from the spirit world to direct their work. These guides may be ... the Atakurma, the elves of the bush. To maintain their links to their guides, most sohanci possess and nourish ritual objects : stones, altars, consecrated sheep or goats."

"the magician harvests plants and tree barks that ... are employed in other korte. Each plant or tree must be harvested at a particular time on a particular day. During the "harvest," moreover, magicians must recite the appropriate incantation to demonstrate their respect for the tree or plant. Once they dry the plant in the sun and pulverize it into powder, they ... mix the powders and recite magic incantations".

"The sohanci ... are patrilineal descendants of Sonni Ali Ber ... . ... The sohanci ... told ... that it was Ndebbi

p. 94

who initiated Sonni Ali Ber. If one is a descendant of Si from both father’s line and mother’s line, one’s power is triple ... .

Sohanci use the spirits as allies to do their "work." They also have vultures as familiars. {cf. Kemian vulture-goddess} The vulture is the sohanci’s spiritual guide and not their totem, which is the lion. The vulture is the only bird that flies through the seven heavens to reach God’s house (Iri Koy do). {cf. Yemenese divine Vulture having 7 successive lives} ...

The most powerful and knowledgeable sohanci are in continuing contact with the "other" world ... . ... They protect villages ... from the excesses of chiefs. ...


When the tam-tam music entrances one of the magicians ..., the man vomits a small metal chain, the sisiri, the ... {ectoplasmic} manifestation of his power. {A paranormal vortex "can also appear to be ... a ... chain" (PT&D).} This rare event brings tears to the eyes of grown men in the audience ... . ...

Just before the most powerful sohanci die, they vomit their chains and tell their successors to swallow them. This act transfers to their successor all of the master’s powers". {cf. [<arabic] silsilah ‘chain (including of succession in a mystic order)’}

HL =

PT&D =

pp. 105-106 legend of Sonni Ali Ber’s son Daouda Albana

p. 105

"Daouda Albana’s head" : "As soon as they severed his head, ... it rose to the heavens. [The murderers] threw Daouda Albana’s body into the Niger. ... As the corpse floated south, the head followed its progress from above. When the body reached the place where the Garuol flows into the Niger, it flowed into the garuol, moving against the current. ... The head followed its body ... until the body reached that was to become Wanzerbe. There Si Daouda Albana’s head came back ... and attached itself to Si Daouda Albana’s body. ...

p. 106

There he became whole again. There he founded Wanzerbe. He was the first sohanci".

pp. 110-112 praeternatural chain

p. 110

"Then [the sohanci] shudders ... . Eyes popping, he vomits a small metal chain; it dangles from the end of his tongue for several seconds. ... Then, bending back with hiccups, he painfully swallows the small, brilliant chain. ... when members of the audience see the chain, an intense emotion overtakes them. They tremble, raise their arms to the sky, walk about wildly, and weep."

p. 111

"A sohanci receives the chain in one of two ways. One way ... if for a father to pass it on to his koycia, his successor ... . At the moment of death the dying sohanci will vomit his chain – some sohanci have more than one – onto his chest and ask his successor to swallow it. ...

A second way to receive a chain is by eating a special kusu, or magic cake. The powdered form of a particular tree bark ... is ... added to millet flour and water, and cooked into a paste that is eaten. ... When the kusu is awakened {cf. /buddha/, literally ‘awakened’} it transforms itself into a small metal chain, which the sohanci vomits."

p. 112

Of the 3 European doubters who insisted on physically testing the ectoplasmic chain, one went "mad", another became unconscious, and still another "became paralyzed from the waist down."

pp. 145, 148, 150, 156-158 Hauka

p. 145

"In the Hausa language, hauka means "crazy." ... In the bodies of their mediums they [Hauka spirits] handle fire, put their hands in pots of boiling sauce, eat poisonous plants. Sometimes Hauka spirits vomit black ink; saliva froths from their mouths.

The Hauka spirits also burlesque French colonial society. They often mock ... French and British military behavior. ... For many Songhay this bravado stems from the Hauka’s "kinship" with the mercurial and ever-powerful Dongo, deity of thunder and adopted son of Harakoy Dikko, goddess of Niger’s waters."

p. 148

[caerimony held by the Zabrama in the Gold Coast, nigh Accra : ] "The music begins with the wail of the monochord violin and the syncopated thumps of gourd drums played like bongos. The Hauka mediums form a circle. They march counterclockwise to the rapid beat – sounds that beckon the spirits. ...

As the music pulses in the background, the first Hauka, Kapral Gardi, arrives. ... He ... is given a red sash – his trademark. He collects the wooden rifles ... .

Other spirits approach their mediums. ... ["onset of possession" :] A young man sits on the ground, his legs extended in front of him. His left leg shakes as though he is shivering, then his right leg trembles. "It" moves through his body. His arms

p. 150

stiffen; his head jerks back; foam bubbles from his mouth. His breathing is heavy, and his eyes are white and distant.

... Hauka spirits ... ask for fire to burn themselves. If the spirit is truly in a body, fire will not burn the medium’s flesh. One of the spirits, Commandant Mugu, the wicked major, torches his clothing. Even though his shirt is consumed by fire, his flesh is miraculously spared."


[other Hauka :] "General Malia, the general of the Red Sea;

Madame Lokotoro the doctors’s wife;

Gomno, the governor-general;

Samakaki, the truck driver;

Chemoko, the son of the corporal of the guard."


The high-priest "makes and offering of egg to his wooden statue of the governor-general, a rotund white figure with a pith helmet and a mustache. He recites an incantation and breaks the egg on the governor-general’s pith helmet. This action represents the plume worn by the British governor-general on formal occasions in Accra."

"The notables call a round table conference to discuss their sacrifice to the spirits. They choose to kill a dog and eat its meat to demonstrate their otherness, for no Songhay would ever eat dog meat. ... The dog is skinned, butchered, and cooked in a pot of boiling water. When the dog meat is ready, the Hauka put their hands into the pot to grab pieces. The boiling water does not scald their hands."

p. 156

"There are Hauka mediums living in most Songhay towns. In larger town like Tillaberi, the Hauka mediums ... frequently meet informally, stage their own ceremonies, and perform their own sacrifices.

p. 157

Hauka are not merely comedians who make social commentary. ... They are ... the sentinel, really, of the Tooru, the nobles of the Songhay spirit world. When the Tooru possess the bodies of their mediums, several Hauka soon arrive to protect them. Sometimes they escort people in the possession crowd to an audience with the Tooru spirits. The Hauka are also clairvoyants. They often call individuals into their circle to read the past, present, and future. ... In some communities Hauka mediums patrol their villages until the early morning hours to protect them from the nocturnal ravages of witches".

p. 158

"possessed mediums are no longer human beings; they are spirits. Spirits see the past and the future, have the strength of ten men, and withstand fire and boiling water. They are the presence of the immortal on earth – in the bodies of human beings."

pp. 162, 165 drums for the Black Spirits; rain-dance

p. 162

"the musicians ... are now playing the drums of yore, the turu and the bitti. The turu is fashioned from a large gourd over which is stretched sheepskin. The bitti is a cylindrical drum whose ends are covered by stretched sheepskin. Unlike the gourd drums played at most possession ceremonies, these are struck with the hand, not with bamboo drumsticks."


"The old dancer ... is now Kure, the hyena. The turu drummers call for meat; Kure wants meat. ... Kure’s presence compels old [woman] to dance. Soon she too is possessed by Hadjo, the Fulan slave who is a Black Spirit."

p. 165

"Songhay use the framework of possession to negotiate with the deities that control natural forces, which in turn control human destiny. ... In exchange for blood and meat, Kure and Hadjo vow to protect [the village] Simiri from pests. Possession ceremonies also set the stage for other negotiations :

men seeking wives; women seeking husbands;

people seeking "protection" for a long journey ...;

people seeking cures for illness;

communities seeking a defense against epidemics;

communities seeking to avoid pests;

communities asking for rain – in the prescribed pattern.


The last request is made during the most important possession ceremony of the year – the yenaandi, or rain dance.

... harmony sets the stage – the yenaandi dance ground – for the dramatic ceremony during whiich the masters of the sky,

Dongo (thunder),

Cirey (lightning),

Moussa Gurma (wind and clouds), and

Manda Hausakoy (iron),

visit the social world. Seated on their thrones, actually overturned mortars, they judge the community."

pp. 167-169 soul-displacement & the mechanism of spirit-possession

p. 167

"Possession priest explain that possession occurs when the spirit, a mass of invisible energy, displaces the "double" of the medium. The double or bia of all human beings manifests itself in several ways ... . It is our shadow; it is our reflection in a mirror or on the surface of water. It is also our soul. It leaves the body during sleep, which accounts for our dreams, and escapes from the body at death in quest of its own adventures."

p. 168

"Following numerous ... accounts the dancer sees the spirit [eventually the old initiates see it too] penetrate the dance circle and direct itself toward him or her; the spirit holds in its hands the skin of a freshly slaughtered animal and presents the bloody side of it {This would indicate the possession-deity’s ravishing the dancer’s "double" : cf. the treatment of the heroine Apemosune by the god Hermes -- "she turned to flee, but he had spread slippery hides on the path of escape, so that she fell flat on her face and he succeeded in ravishing her." (GM 93.b) -- "by spreading some freshly cut hides across her path and so causing her to slip to the ground as she was returning from a spring. He then proceeded to rape her" (RHGM, p. 354). – "he spread fresh hides on the path, on which, returning from the spring, she slipped and so was deflowered." (A:B 3:2:1)} to the dancer three times :

-- the first time, tears flow from the dancer’s eyes;

-- the second time, mucus flows from the dancer’s nose;

-- the third time, the dancer cries out. {cf. the Apemosune’s confession, said to have been a "retrograde" "Freudian slip" (MR)}

On the fourth pass, the spirit places the bloody skin over the dancer’s head. {Thus, during the duration of the spirit-possession, it controlleth the dancer’s perispirit.} In this way the spirit captures the double and enters the dancer’s body. During possession, the dancer’s double is protected under the bloody skin. When the spirit leaves the body, it lifts off the bloody animal skin, liberating {‘FREEDOM from trouble’ is the meaning of the name /Apemosune/ (Z, p. 924 – vol. II, pt. II, app. B)} the dancer’s double. ...


Sometimes mediums are unconscious for several minutes. They always cough".

"it is already indicated that the dancer must not remember the possession".


"[A certain zima] of Tillaberi said the dancer’s double resides in the sacred lolo, an iron staff owned by sohanci ... . Other zima have said that the possessed dancer’s double resides in one of the poles of the sacred canopy under which the possession musicians play".

"The sohanci ... is the master of his double, which is not displaced by a spirit. ... [Howbeit, there is] the magician’s chain, the sign that the "self" of the magician has taken the form of a "vulture" that flies great distances". {"The rock, the vulture, and the chain" (Lord Byron, quoted in BM, p. 20) : "chained naked to a pillar in the Caucasian mountains, where a greedy vulture tore" (GM 39.h) – with that "pillar" cf. "the poles of the sacred canopy", that "canopy" being comparable to the "rich layer of fat" concealing the bones (GM 39.f).} {a canopy was formed by S`es.a, whose name is cognate with that of Koios the father of Letoi the goddess of Kos and of Phaistos (L), whose segmented-spiral inscribed disk may repraesent a coiled chain : cf. how "Tityos was punished for trying to rape Leto, Apollo's mother. His punishment was to be bound to a rock where two vultures would continually eat him alive." (P&M)}


"Witches operate at night. When they travel in the darkness their trail is marked by flashes of light, which are in effect the trace of their doubles. Meanwhile the body of the witch remains in the village in the dream state. ... As the magician sleeps {cf. "Sleep ... locks them in an adamantine Chain." (S:Th, ll. 775-776)}, the

p. 169

double goes on ... patrol, carrying the lolo to prick ... the witch, which defends itself by millet stalks at the magician." {In Friaul, on Thursdays, "these witches ... rode various animals, and ... the women hit the men who were with them with millet stalks" (D, p. 35).}

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

RHGM = Robin Hard : The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology. London, 2004.

A:B = Apollodoros : Bibliotheke.

MR =

Z = Arthur Bernard Cook : Zeus. Cambridge U Pr, 1925.

BM = Bulfinch’s Mythology.

L =

P&M =

S:Th = William Lillington Lewis (transl.) : The Thebaid of Statius. Oxford : Clarendon Pr, MDCCLXVII.

D = Hans Peter Duerr (transl. by Felicitas Goodman) : Dreamtime. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985.,_3-4.htm

pp. 174-176 the Dogon

p. 174

"The Dogon ... live along the Bandiagara cliffs in Mali" on the side those cliffs facing Upper Volta.

p. 175

"During their migrations, the Dogon developed a close relationship with the Bozo, who became their joking partners."

p. 176

"one of their mythic ancestors, Le’be’, [was] the first person to "die" – though in appearance only. When the ancestors opened Le’be’’s tomb, they discovered a living serpent surrounded by duge stones that had been transformed from the ancestor’s skeleton. Followed by the serpent, the Dogon traversed underground tunnels to the Bandiagara cliffs." {cf. the legendary migration Zulu migrations through underground caverns, recounted in Vusamazulu Mutwa : Indaba.}


"the Dogon consisted of four families. The Dyon, the Ono, and the Dommo were the offspring of Le’be’’s first son, and the Arou were the descendants Le’be’’s second son, Diounou, who was the first person to truly die. ... the hogon (priest) of Arou not only is the priest of Le’be’’s shrine but is the supreme priest of all the Dogon ... . ... Before the Mossi invasion, Dogon apparently lived with Kurumba populations in the region of Yatenga, north of Ouahigouya in Burkina Faso."

pp. 178-182, 185 Dogon mythology

p. 178

[quoted from CO, p. 18 :] "Water, which is the divine seed, was thus able to enter the womb of the earth and ... resulted in the birth of twins. ... They were green in color, half human beings and half serpents. From the head to the loins they were humans : below they were serpents. They red eyes were wide open ..., and their tongues were forked ... . Their arms were flexible and without joints. Their bodies were green {cf. Glaukos ‘Green’} and sleek all over, shining {shimmering} like the surface of water, and covered with short green hairs {cf. the "green beard" (O:M) of the ‘god of waters’ (deus aquae) Glaukos -- "shaggy covering of seaweed and tangle is spread over it like a coat of hair" (Ph:I 2:15)}, a presage of vegetation".

p. 179

"To remedy the shameful plight of their mother, the Nummo pair .. brought with them fibers they had grown in the heavenly gardens ... . The fibers ... contained the vapors of the first language". "the pale fox, the first son of Amma, coveted the speech of his mother, the earth. The pale fox attempted to steal his mother’s skirt, whose vapors embodied speech. ... As a result ..., the pale fox became imbue with language. Thereafter diviners have sought him out".


"the Nummo pair drew the shadows of a man and a woman on the ground. The first man pulled both of these shadows into his being. The first woman followed suit. In this way the first man and woman were hermaphrodites. The soul of the woman was in the man’s prepuce; the soul of the man was in the woman’s clitoris." {cf. the androgyne soul according to the speech by Aristophanes to Eruximakhos in Platon : Symposium 189-193 ("AS")}


[quoted from CO, pp. 22-23 :] "The man then had [sexual] intercourse with the woman, two later bore the first two children of a series of eight, who were to become the ancestors of the Dogon people. In the moment of birth the pain of parturition was concentrated in the woman’s clitoris, which ... was changed into the form of a scorpion". {Wayapi spirit-woman’s "pubis is covered with scorpions"; Bara woman used a "comb to extract scorpions from her pubic hair" ("VD").}

p. 180

[quoted from CO, p. 27 :] "What the seventh ancestor had received ... was perfect knowledge of a Word – the second Word to be heard on earth and not, like the first, reserved for particular recipients {the diviners, using a secret language}, but destined for all mankind."


"The eighth ancestor was impatient; she came to earth before the seventh ancestor .... . The seventh ancestor ... turned into a great serpent, which moved toward the smithy ... . The smith butchered the great serpent. He divided the carcass among humans and kept the head, which he buried under his anvil".

p. 181

"The smith struck his anvil, and the sound carried underground, awakening the spirit of the seventh ancestor. He took his ... form of half-human, half-serpent and ... ate the first man, head first, and then vomited {cf. "the Dragon ... vomiting Jason" (HR&E, p. 227b) – it was a magic potion from Athene which enabled Iason "to emerge from the dragon's maw." (IAA-S)} eight duge stones in the form of a person’s soul. These are the stones that the hogon (priests) of the Dogon wear around their necks. The stones embody the eight original ancestors ... . {cf. Uaxac-tun as "Eight Stones ... Born in Heaven" (VS)}

Much later, human beings, led by Dyon, ... opened the grave and found the duge stones ... and the seventh ... ancestor in the form of a living serpent. ... Le’be’ was the essence of the third Word".

p. 182

"In time the fibers were stolen by a woman who terrorized human beings, for no one had ever seen such brilliant fibers. ... The soul and the force (nyama) of the man-serpent rose from the carcass and entered the body of a pregnant woman who was wearing a red fiber dress. This woman gave birth to a child who came out red and spotted like a serpent."

p. 185

"The celestial anvil that had fallen into Lake Bosumtwi (a sacred lake in Ashanti) had rebounded to Yougou Dogorou in Dogon country. It was an enormous sandstone turret ... that dominated the village and that during its second falling had crushed ... the little Andouboulou elves, who preceded the first humans. And it is from here, from this anvil of Yougou, that each sixty years the Sigui begins its tortuous itinerary, following the cliffs for seven years." {"Ngao-rang the run-away ... travelled earth-people’s long road for seven whole years. Grieving she reached the pass to the sky-people’s land." (AH, p. 35 – M119:96-98) This is the Hmao form of the myth of goddess Psukhe’s seeking of god Erot- (Apuleius : The Golden Ass 4.28-6.24 – P&E).}


The delay in waiting (for the appropriate time in the 60-year cycle {the Chinese and Tibetans likewise reckoning a 60-year cycle}) is the signal for when the "Sigui takes off on the wings of the wind". {cf. the Ploutarkhos : The Delay of the Divinity 565E "borne upwards by rays of light as if by wings" (RS, p. 37), so as to, according to (its title being a very Taoistic praecept) Live Unknown 1105C-D "like a bird, gaze upward, waiting ... to take wing to "some luminous expanse"" (RS, p. 37, fn. 22).}

CO = Griaule : Conversations with Ogontemme^li. Oxford U Pr, 1965.

O:M = Ovidius : Metamorphoses. Ph:I = Philostratos the Elder : Imagines.

"AS" = "Aristophanes’s Speech"

"VD" = "Vagina Dentata"

HR&E = A Handbook of Rome and its Environs. 10th edn, London, 1871.


VS =

AH = Keith & Kenneth Parsons : A Hmao (Hua Miao) Songs, Stories and Legends from China. Lincom, Muenchen, 2009.

P&E =

RS = Frederick E. Brenk : Relighting the Souls. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 1998.

Paul Stoller : The Cinematic Griot : the Ethnology of Jean Rouch. U of Chicago Pr, 1992.