Part 2: Growing older
One day when Fanta arrived home from working in her father's onion fields, she saw that her parents had some visitors. She recognized them as the parents of Abdulai, one of her brother's friends from the village. She stood quietly by the door trying to listen to what the adults were discussing in the cool, central room of their mud-walled home.
As Abdulai's parents exited the house, they smiled at Fanta in a curious way. Her mother came out and joined her. "I see you are looking at our door which was carved specifically for our family and our village," her mother said. Even though the significance of the figures carved in to the old door had been explained to her many times, Fanta always enjoyed hearing her mother tell the story again. "You are getting older now, what can you tell me about the totems carved on our door?" her mother surprised her--Fanta had never been asked to explain their traditions to an elder.
"The serpent is important because it connects the hogon to the spirit world," she said pointing to the carving on the side of the door. "Our planet is a complete circle which is formed by the snake eating his own tail, that is what this carving shows. If the snake stops eating, the circle will open up and all the water and life will spill out." Fanta's mother smiled at her, showing appreciation for her daughter's understanding of the old carvings.
"Water is sacred and important--for it is the giver of life. The crocodile is important to us because it first lead our people to water," Fanta continued pointing at the waves carved on the top of the door and the crocodile carved on the right side.
"Yes Fanta, you have understood very well, but what about the figures carved in the center of the door? Who are they?" Fanta's mother asked her. In the center of the dark wood door, the figure of a woman was carved surrounded by her children and to the far right, a man's figure stood. "This is a family," said Fanta.
"Yes, the woman is a mother. You see, women are the mothers of all of humanity. That is why they are so important to our people. Soon, you too will start spending days in the women's house at the end of the village," her mother explained referring to the house that her mother, the other older girls and the women in the village go to for a few days each month. She had always been told that for a few days each month, women become "unpure" and need to rest and not do work in the house, so they go to the women's house. "And soon you too will start being a mother," her mother continued. "That is why Abdulai's parents came to visit. We have arranged for you to marry him, so you too can start making your family."
Fanta was shocked. She didn't know what to think. It is every girl's dream to get married and start having children, but she wasn't ready for it yet. "I should have known it was coming," Fanta thought to herself. "That is why my parents had me circumcised earlier this year." She recalled the event that the village chief and his wife conduct only once a year, where they circumcise all the boys and girls who are the right age. "After a girl is circumcised, she is pure and is fit to be a mother and a wife," her mother had told her.
That night was a full moon. The bright moonlight lit up the sky and illuminated the entire plateau with shadows of the dancing baobab trees. Tonight the village will stay up late, talking, laughing, singing and dancing. Usually, the family went to sleep after eating their evening meal, for it is not safe to go out in the dark of the night. "Our world exists in the sunlight of the day. The blackness of the night hides a world that is not ours. It is the world of the spirits, and only those that need to communicate with the spirits, like those that make our totems or our hogon, should go out in the night," the elders in the village always warned. But once a month the moon lit up the sky so bright that the spirits stayed hidden. Only then could the Dogon people gather and enjoy the magic of the night.
Fanta loved full moon nights. All her friends would gather in the center of the village. The girls would form a circle and sing and dance to the fast paced rhythm they created by slapping their hands and stomping their feet. The song was in fact a game of courting. The boys would stand in the outskirts watching the girls do the dance. When a boy liked a girl he would go to the circle and take her by the hand. The two would then go off and talk under the shade of a baobab tree.
This full moon night, Fanta did not go join her friends in the song and dance. She sat up in her house listening to the loud clapping rhythm and the laughter below as it echoed through the canyon. "I wonder if Abdulai is down there," she thought staring up at the bright moon. "I wonder if his parents have told him that I will be his wife."
Her mother saw that she had not gone down to join her friends, and came to sit with her. "Fanta, do not be sad that we have arranged your marriage. This is a very happy moment in every woman's life, in every family's life. Soon you too will be having babies and braiding your own daughter's hair. Abdulai comes from a good family. He will build you a large granary to store all your grains and wealth. You will be very happy."
Her mother's words comforted Fanta and she smiled staring out over the great plateau as it glowed in the moonlight. "Maybe one day I will walk to the ends of the earth with my daughter, and together we will see where our vast plateau drops away and the waters no longer flow."
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Kavitha - Education is a Girl's Best Friend
Kavitha - Part 1: "A Girl Named Fanta"/A Death in Dogon Country
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