The Day Mandingo Town of Tukolor Fell In Turmoil
By M. Sekou Kanneh
The story is intended for a fiction, but we are told by elders that a similar situation occurred in our land before the emergence of Islam. I tried to replace the characters and scenes with imaginary ones. But if for any reason your name of your town was mentioned, please forgive me, for it was not done on purpose. Enjoy the reading. This history of West African secret society may have not begin with the Mandingo People though, but significant parts of its history will have more to do with the them. It is obvious therefore, that the history of the rulership of the Mande kingdom had more to do with animism. Beside Sumanguru Kante and Sondiata Keita, we are told that Mansah Musa in welcoming the Moroccan emissaries during the 1400s put out the mask dancer (korma) in his perch as a way of cultural exhibition to entertain them. History further says that though he became converted to Islam, but Mansa Musa rulership went side by side with the culture and tradition of the land, which was not limited to Secret society. Back in the home front, after many years of migration to and from other lands, a man from Tukolor town named Sangbawolo was sent to a far away land known as present day Mali, to learned the inner works of the Kormah society and to import same in the land. And his returned happened to have coincided with the bush being turned over to the men after a three-year ownership of the women. Though the bush and all of its components belonged to the men, but it was traditionally turned over to the women for the period of three years whenever uninitiated girls had reached an unbearable number to warrant a Sande feast by the all powerful Kamara chiefs who were the custodians of rulership in Mandingodom. It happened that the women had just graduated a badge of Sande girls that had been in the bushes for three unbroken years. They had turned the bushes over to the men awaiting men circumcision feast, which took over the bush for the same period of time. The men had cleanse the bushes free from the three years ownership by the women while at the same time preparing to put another badge of uninitiated boys in the bush. Zoes had come from every part of the clan to help defeminize the land and make it appropriate for the men. That year, a man by the name of Sangbalawolo had just returned from a far away land today known as Mali, from where he learned about inner works of a secret society such as the institutionalized male circumcisions secret society that was practiced in the clan and spearheaded by a fearful and fierce Korma devil called Korgbleh. It was common knowledge that Korgbeleh was merciless, vicious and uncompromising when it came to protecting the power of the Kamara and preserving the culture and tradition. On Sangbawolo returned from Mali, he had not only come with a lot of ideas in augmenting the power of Korgbleh, but also came with a freshly carved mask that was supposed to be used by the fiercesest “korma” devil that was in Tukolor then, and through which the Kamara chiefs ran the clan. The rules following the usage of the mask was that it was not to be seen by women and or uninitiated males. And it was to be dyed black before it could be used. And such dying was supposed to be secretly done in dying pots of the wives of the various zoes in Tukolor Town without their wives noticing it, because it was forbidding for any woman to see the mask. Days and days had gone by when Zoes had to go in their houses when their wives were asleep, and to equally wake up and carry the mask to the domicile of the men society before the daylight could show its face. This had gone on for several months until the day Sangbalawolo had his turn to take the mask to his wife’s dye pot. He had forgotten that it was his time, when he and others came from drinking freshly brewed palm wine that kept him drowsy before going to his hut. He mindfully crept behind his hut making sure that his wives were asleep, took the mask from the bag and drop it deep in the pot and went to bed. Sangbalawolo over slept due to his drunkenness from the previous night. So when his wife who was accustomed to waking up early to put weaved cotton cloths in the dye pot woke up to do her regular routine, to her surprise she saw a fearfully carved mask in her pot. She became very jittery in fears, and decides to call her mates and showed them what she had seen in her pot. The women agreed that they needed to call the women Zoe and show her what they have seen. They quickly ran to the zoes and told them the alarming news. They came back immediately and took the mask to the women Zoe house in order to take a plan as to what they would do. They would dare not consult the men for they knew that this might possibly be a very highly secretive property that belong to them that they would possibly not want women to see. The decision to take it to the women Zoë house was reached and two women took the fearful carved mask into the custody of the women Zoes. “Well,” as she emptied her snuff horn into her palm, “this seems to be too big for us hear in Tukolor, as such we need to inform Zoes from other town to join us in handling the situation at hand”, said the head women Zoe. And as you may know both Mandingo and other tribal Zoes have many things in common then. And so a few women were whisked immediately to go to Tudala, Tineenga and surrounding towns to alert them of what was unfolding in Tukolor and to ask them to attend a meeting come the next market day. Zoes from all over the clan converged in Tukolor Sande bush for this all-important meeting. A Zoe, who was visiting from Kornilor clan, warned that the women returned the mask with no delay, which was understood by other Zoes. But the unanswered question remained, how? They did not want to return it under a situation where the men would know that they have had anything to do with it, because men of those days were very heartless and secrecy. They would kill their own wife or child who desecrated their culture. The women were now put in a very difficult position that their thinking ability could not save them out of. There were meetings over meeting that brought no solution. The town was now tense, women keeping to themselves while the men were finding way to rescue the mask from the women in a mysterious way that would keep them in the bottomless pit of doubt. The men wanted the women to continue to believe all the myth that has been said about the korma devil called Kogbelleh. Women and uninitiated men have been made to believe that Korgbleh was a mysterious being coming from different planet to rule the clan. And that it would kill anyone who defied its authority. You can now see the predicament of the women in such situation. Infact, the women were now spending most of the days in the Sande domicile since it was equally forbidden for any man to go there. Women now started abandoning their matrimonious home and either sleeping in the Zoe hush or the Sande bush for fear of not been asked by their various husband to comment on the situation. What they didn’t know was that the men were not interested in discussion anything with them. They were interested in getting their mask even if it caused the lives of all the women that knew about it so as to keep their supremacy alive over the women and none initiated men. The odd relationship between the men and their wives went on for several weeks with every body keeping tight lips. Sangbawolo’s carelessness had landed him in rope waiting to be executed if things went wrong and the men became exposed. He was tied under the cotton tree infested with ants and other dangerous insets as a way of slowly punishing him until all was over. Every initiated man was warned to behave to his wives as if nothing has happened. But it was obvious that the women could not control such relation, and they therefore kept some degree of distances from their husbands. The women secret meetings continued while the men pretended as if nothing was at stake. The mask could not leave the sites of the women chief Zoes, protected by an array of women that had come from various towns in the clan. The odd relationship was widening by the days while the both group were trying to find a perfect way out, even though the men were prepared to do anything it took to keep their secret preserved. They had tried many other avenues, but failed. They were now left with doing one of two things. Either destroy the many years of manly secrecy that have continued to keep the clan in the hand of the men by admitting that indeed the korma society was just a ploy to fool the clan. Or do anything it took, even by annihilating as many women it took to preserve the secrecy that has continue to control the clan. The men zoes had a crucial meeting in the domicile of the fiercest of all fierce korma devil, which belonged to the Kamaras but managed by a Mandingo sect called the Kammehs otherwise known today as the Kromahs. As usual, in Mandingodom, the Kamaras were and still remains the owners of the land and its people, while those who controlled the Kormah devils ran all secret enterprises that the Kamaras depended on to run the clans. In that meeting the men declared to the great Kamara chief that they had failed and that they needed an outside assistance to preserve the clan from desecration. After the meeting, the chief sent two men with ten “Gbenzeh” (5 inch rod used for money those days) and ten kola nuts to Sulunga, now part of present day Guinea, to chief Nakuma Kama to assist in saving the clan’s culture from the viciousness of their wives. Chief Nakuma Kamma of Sulunga equally sent his emissary to Koanga, also present day Guinea, the domicile of the Korma devil of the “Three hundred and thirty three cotton trees” to help in resolving what was at hand in the clan. In two days, a man by the name of Ballawulleh was whisked to Tukolor to resolve it. Immediately Ballahwulleh arrived in Tukolor he instructed the men to let the Jayman (the spokesman for the Korgbleh) announce that by sun down all the women and uninitiated men should be indoors because Kogbleh would be touring the town on this night to cleanse it for the coming circumcision feast. Immediately the daylight began giving chance to darkness, the heavy sound of drum beat and singing began to take over the town from the road leading to Kandelor, and as usual everyone who was not supposed to be out door began running to their houses and the sound of closing doors began to take over the town, and in less than five minute the town was as quiet as the forest. It took the men the whole night of drinking, singing, dancing and praises to the Zoes and their Korgbleh as has always been done. As the daylight began to take over from the night the Jayman announced that women were now allowed to open their doors and start their day activities since Korgbleh had already gone to its domicile. What was confusing to the women was that they thought they had Kogbleh in their possession, how could they be hearing the same Korgbleh singing outdoor. Mind you, the men had always being monitoring the women movement. They knew that this night the women had left the Mask in the Sande bush hidden in a secluded place and came to town. The men could have gone there and taken the mask, but they did not want to take it in such a cowardly manner. They wanted to take it in a way that will keep the women in the bottomless pit of doubt. They wanted to take it while at the same time preserving the secret that kept the clan peaceful in their hands. Just as the secret meeting continued among the women Zoe, so it was with the men. Ballawulleh began secretly spending the day and nights in the vicinity of the women Sande bush to study their movement. He had known the time they came and left the Sande bush and where they left the mask during all those time. And so it was now getting closed to action. It was getting closer to the day that will see whether the lives of the wives had lesser value as compared to preserving the clan’s secret. It was getting closer to the day where men would hide their faces in secluded areas and cry since they did not want their collogues to see cowardice in their faces. And yes, Tukolor was about to taste the worst carnage that no civilized community would be proud of. Few days into Ballawulleh arrival, the women met and decided that they were going to carry the mask in the women Sande hut, put it in the artic and abandon carrying it out again since infact the bush was in the hands of the men, and they the women are supposed to be in retirement for three years. The Zoes had agreed that they would disperse the next day and all of the Zoes would go to their various towns after they deposited the mask in the attic of the Sande hut. Ballawulleh saw that as a perfect time to act. He immediately left the vicinity of the Sande bush rushed to the hut and quickly climbed in the attic unnoticed. By then the Jayman, the drummers, the assorted horn blowers and every man that had something to do with the Korma devil had been informed to stand bye for action. Men were now hiding in the surroundings of the town waiting to see what magic Ballawulleh was about to play to preserve the secrecy of the clan. By 8: o’clock that evening, the women were in a convoy melodiously singing while entering the town. It was customary that when ever the women were singing that specific song approaching the town, the men needed to go far away so as to avoid them from seeing the women chief zoe. The men that lived near the road coming from the women Sande bush acted accordingly until the women entered their hut. The women head zoe instructed one of the women to take the mask in the attic and find a suitable place for it to be place. The woman climbed in the dark attic and placed the mask under a mat without seeing Ballawulleh. She came down spread her mat on the floor as other women did and fell to sleep. According to those who witness it, there were about fifty to sixty women in the hut that night. Ballawulleh waited patiently for the daylight. And he also waited for the women that did not sleep in the hut to come. After significant number of women converged in the hut, the zoe who had no idea what was going on sent another lady in the attic to bring the mask so that they can all take oath that no one will reveal anything to the men even if it cause their death. As the women climbed in the attic to bring the mask, Ballawulleh was already dressed in the complete Korma form and wore the mask with all of the associated instrument that makes it to sound like a roaring lion. He started roaring and landed the “solawule gben” a special hammer used to kill human) on the woman and killed her instantly. Before the women could make up their minds to run outside the warning of women keeping indoor was being announced outside by the jayman. Ballawulleh who was now in the Kogbleh form jumped from the attic and began killing every woman that was in that hut that day. By then there were singing and praises out door as to how they had been looking for the mighty Kogbleh not knowing where he was. “ Where have you been?” The jayman asked loudly. “I have come to spent some time with my mothers, and now I am on my way home.” Kogbleh answered. The rest was blood bath, cries, freight and indeed merry making for the men. We are told that over one hundred women got killed on that day in Tukolor for the men to prove supremacy over the women. When all was over and zoe from all over the land converged to cleanse the land, the Kamara chief started getting cold feet for the Korma operation in the clan. We are told that even as he was not found of the white round cap religious men that came from North preach something different, but he began to listen to them about the dangers in animism. Even though he did not subscribe to their idea at that time, but he did gave them the chance to preach and propagate their religion. That incident in Tukolor was an avenue by which something needed to be done by powerful chiefs. They had the experience of the Korma devil of Suakolo from a now extinct town in present day Guinea, referred to as the Suakolo Gbafala killing his mother only because she saw him under a situation unbefitting of a woman. “Such violation indeed was punishable by death,” my grand father told me as he struggle to fine the pocket from his torn gown that now had many holes. As he emptied his snuff horn into his palm to carry the conversation on, I was already dozing to sleep, but dreaming as if I was a participant in the story. He put his hand in his torn gown’s pocket and pulled out a piece of kola nut, which he thought could keep me awake to listen to the rest of the story. But sleep being what it is, I was already expressing my love with his straw bed while he took rest in his hammock, mindful that we had the birds to contempt with in the morning for the new rice on the farm. It wan not too long when I heard the Azan from the Mosque and my grand father went outdoor to take abolition. in minutes I ,could now hear my mother calling me and my brother to start going to the farm before the birds start eating the rice before we got there. Quickly we started tearing the watery grass rushing to beat the birds in time. In the subsequent write up you will learn how and why the idea of animism got dismantled, giving room to Islam to take over the clan by 99.9% if not 100%. Thanks for reading!!!!