Vagrancy, Permanence and the Sense of Home 5
The nomad who had set out in search of wider horizons, in search of an elusive goal finally finds what he had been looking for. After a very arduous peregrination he’s within reach of his goal. So he thinks.
At the outset, the narrator/fisherman told us where he intended to fish; it wouldn’t be in any stream, river or lake but in a ‘njagbo.’ He then went on to define this ‘njagbo,’ not in terms of its physical features but in terms of its spiritual dimension. It’s the ‘domain’ of water spirits and strange and dangerous creatures like crocodiles. Whosoever sets out to invade the spirit realm must be adequately prepared, for no one knows what the denizens of the spirit world would do in retaliation. They can strike the thoughtless ‘invader’ with madness and/or death.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising then when the fisherman begins his fishing by first going through a ritual of prayer and offering. Sometime during the fishing the narrator tell us he’s a Muslim. But Islamic thought doesn’t have a place in Mende cosmology, this latter being the only perspective that matters in the fisherman’s prayers and his earlier definition of the spirit world; the propitiatory prayers are in line with a Mende view of the origin of the world and the relationship of humans to each other and to the other world.
One other thing to consider: the river in which the ‘njagbo’ has been found. Is it just by pure luck that the ‘njagbo’ has been found in the Nuwaye? Here’s a name that happily straddles two meanings, each of which is equally satisfactory. The last syllable ‘ye’ can mean ‘water/river,’ and also a suffix that corresponds to the English suffixes of ‘-ship,’ ‘-ty,’ ‘-ness’ and ‘-hood’ (e.g. “Mahaye=”kingship/majesty). So Nuwaye can mean River of High Rank, or quite simply Importance/Notability. So if you’re going to fish for your lord and master it would make perfect sense if you caught fish in a river that, by its very name, invoked prominence and power.
If the quest had been marked by the sheer brilliance of a good ‘cartographer’ who knew the lay of the land, the fishing, on the other hand, is defined by wit and humour. No fish in this water is fit for a man of power, and must be thrown back into the pool.
This alerts us right away that the project of freedom is doomed to fail. The vagrant who had set out in search of individual freedom is bound to go on looking. Are desires always fulfilled? Man is hemmed in by the raging fires that consume him and there’s no escape. Freedom, like the ‘njagbo’ that represents it, can be elusive, and when it seems just there for the taking, there could be disappointment. Is it any surprise that it was a slave who set out in the beginning of the ballad? Isn’t he more a slave of desires than an actual war captive who wants to redeem himself by dint of hard work and a sense of duty to his lord?
See the Salia Collection for Fishing for Our Father 3