Salia Koroma:”Only Love and Family Matter on Earth.”
I’m back from my little break. Here’s hoping that the rest of the blogging year goes smoothly.
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And from the vast vignette vault (there’s alliteration for you!) I bring you Salia Bondesia. The main theme of the song is the family, or more correctly kinship, as Salia uses one of the plural forms of bonda (family), a form of the term that emcompasses the whole extended family. As corollaries, we have the themes of love and friendship.
This song is rather easy to date (“Now this war has been fought and is all done…”). So this was around 1945/1946, latest 1947/1948. What would’ve been obvious to the astute social and cultural observer would have been the gradual inversion of values. It would be wrong to infer from the song that this upturning happened with and only because of the soldiers returning from the Burma Campaign. As with any historian and social observer, Salia chose an event or a date as to when some changes crystallised.
The family, love, friendship, and kindness to all beyond the immediate family are all values being betrayed left, right and centre by ideas antithetical to social cohesion. People are unashamedly sleeping with their kinsmen and women. They’ve chosen to ignore their behaviour by calling it something else, as if that will take the stain away. Rampant individualism (“eat and enjoy what falls into your hand”) is the order of the day. Chiefs are unfaithful in their promises; they’re far from what they appear to be (“How delicious–but not a pinch of salt!/O how the people of Monghele led me on…”). Love in all its forms is threatened by its false opposites.
And to show this general threat to what had prevailed, Salia uses highly figurative language, language so economical and pared down that it taxes understanding. But it taxes translation even more. The idea of the denuded forested area that no longer offers protection from the sun or the rain; the idea of the river becoming a place of mortal dread as a result of the crocodile lying on its bank; these ideas are so stylised as to leave the listener either shaking their head in wonder or concluding that all this linguistic contortion is nothing more than balderdash.
Amidst this pile of rotting traditional values, Salia Koroma finds and treasures a gem. Where there had been threats, broken promises, false loves and friendships, he finds Kposowa, referred to as “The Father of Princes” (Samanga ti Keh). (Note that Kposowa is referenced variously as Kposo, and Kposui, both being constituent elements of the name.)
I have stated in previous posts that Salia Koroma uses the personal to talk about what was going on in society at large. This song is a great example. His personal experiences are so closely interwoven with his society’s day-to-day life as for the two to be indistinguishable. And more than sixty years on, this song is just as relevant today.