Rain clouds gather, but only, for they will not break.
They will not break at all; only the Society is passing by.
Something weighty billows across the sky, hemmed in by rain clouds.
A Know-nothing may see it but will not, foolhardily, give it away
If you blab on about it you will not be back when you go.
The story in Njawima Meme is very simple. At first glance at least. It is a story of a master-slave relationship, one of dominance and control, of power and impotence inverted.
A Ndohgboh Joso goes fishing, but as it puts the only fish that had been in the weir trap into the fish basket, the fish wriggles out of its hands and into the stream (njawi). To recover this loss, it spends a fruitless morning fishing. It returns to its lair, only for its human captive to tell it to go back to the stream, that if it doesn’t come back with the particular fish that had slipped away death awaited him on his return. That’s a bind for a spirit to find itself in.The song is an expression of the predicament of the Ndohgboh joso.
But even this explanation of the song doesn’t make sense without a knowledge of the Mende folklore about Ndohgboh Joso/Yoso. Ndohgboh means bush, and Joso means magic, but that doesn’t mean much, does it? A Ndohgboh Joso is then a magician of the bush, a malicious, some would say evil, spirit that takes on the shape of a man, short of stature (not a dwarf, a completely different forest spirit) and rather unattractive. It’s best known for leading lone travellers astray and keeping them captive if they do not recognise its nature on their first encounter. The human would eventually become the spirit’s slave.
Now if you were a captured traveller but you somehow managed to keep your wits about you, there’s a chance of escape within the first few days. The idea is to make impossible requests, like asking the spirit to fetch you drinking water in a fishing net. The cool-headed captive can thus reverse the master-captive relationship. In the end the imp would be obliged to return its human captive (now master) to the nearest village.
Isn’t it interesting how fishing, the impossible ‘feat’ of catching the right fish, features in Salia’s imagination? Isn’t it interesting that there’s often a power dynamic involved?
I shall be writing a post on Salia Koroma and his spoken introductions. For today, though, I’ll limit myself to a specific introduction to a particular song.
The song here is Kpomuma-Jekele. I’ve three versions of this song, one of them without an introduction. In my opinion both introductions are superfluous, as the song (s) by itself/themselves tell the story quite well. In the introduction I’ve posted, it’s a simple story of a middle-aged wife who gets more than she bargained for when she seeks a co-wife and helper in a young girl. The other introduction presents a story of jealousy.
Kpomuma-Jekele, the sobriquet that the older woman gives the girl, refers to the manner in which the latter sits on the log bench at the farm hut. (Jekele is an adverb that can be roughly translated as daintily. Kpomu is a name specific to a log bench at a farm hut. Ma is a postposition, as we don’t talk about prepositions but postpositions in Mende.) My translation of the title has placed the emphasis on the character of the girl rather than on how she sat.