Africa Speaks: Customs 1



Young boys at Filingue market, Niger, 1992

Contents: Mani . . . Mani Fori . . . Soro . . . home page


Mani

Amadou Cisse Ic-Crimatou

"Mani" is a Zarma word which means "fat" in English. In Zarma society it is very important for a woman to be fat. Therefore, each year after the harvest, in a village where the crops have been good, all the women of the village organize a meeting at the customary gathering place.

One older woman, fifty  or over, is chosen to preside over the meeting. She brings four or five cocks whose throats are cut beforehand. Two or three women pluck them, then take them to the presider. She cuts them into pieces and puts them into a big pot. When everything is ready, all the women become silent.

The presider then starts her work. She calls each woman and gives her a piece of meat according to the size of her body.

Some women are given fleshy pieces; this means that they are "real" women, because they are fat.

Others are given flesh and bone together; this means that they are acceptable, but they must try to become fatter.

The presider gives some women bare bones, without any meat on them; these bones symbolize their thinness.

Certain women are told of their bad behavior that day in a symbolic way. They are given the feet of the cocks: this means that, not only are they thin, like the bones of the foot, but also they do not stay home; they are always at someone else's house.

When all the women are given their pieces, according to the size of their bodies, the meeting ends and everybody goes home.

Then the challenge begins. The fat women will try to put on even more flesh, or at least not to regress. The thin women will try to challenge the fat women. For about three months, nobody will see the thin women outside. They stay in their houses, stuffing themselves. During this time, some become so fat that a five minutes' walk will make them pant.

At the end of three months, a sumptuous dance is organized. The sound of drums echoes throughout the village. About 4 PM all the women come to the usual place. They wear strange dresses which show up their trembling, graceful, fleshy bodies when they dance.

Each woman dances to a special music and flatters herself by comparing herself to a buffalo, elephant, or other huge animal. The other women, who have not been able to grow fat, will not come to this gathering lest they should be made fun of.

At sunset, all the women gather and greet one another and wish one another health and long life, and thus the dance comes to an end.

That is the reason it is difficult to find a thin Zarma women in a village where there is enough food to eat.

Copyright © 1998 Amadou Cisse Ic-Crimatou

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Village near Gao, Niger 1992

Mani-Fori

El-Hadj Amadou Boubacar 3/9/92

For the Zarma and Songhai peasant, the husband of a skinny woman has no experience of the delights of the intimacy of married life. How can you embrace a skeleton without being pricked by bones?

Mani-Fori is a Zarma expression. Mani means fat, or fatness, and Fori, feast.

According to the husbands, the plump woman is not fragile, and sleeps very soundly in the evening, after the hard housework of the day. They think that the ideal woman is well padded. Her curves and chubbiness are quite full. Her fleshy hands are real velvet in their caresses. Her undulating rump makes you tremble with pleasure.

In Zarma-Songhai areas, people judge a man by his wife's stoutness. The husband of a fat woman is supposed to be well-off, thoughtful, and very concerned with the well-being of his family.

This man can, at any time, ask for and obtain the hand of the girl he wants.

A puny woman indicates a poor husband, or one who does not make a point of the health of his family. All these thoughts induce the Zarma-Songhai woman to want to become fat, very fat.

In the villages, from the month of September, when the crops are harvested, the women stuff themselves with bran, millet, and milk, ("foura") all day long and even late into the night. They will try to outdo each other in fatness, during the "Mani Fori," a feast which takes place every year in December or January.

During the week of Mani Fori ceremonies, the fat women, happy and proud of their corpulence, dance, dance, dance every day to the music of the tom-toms of traditional musicians and sing songs full of proverbs which ridicule the skinny women, glorify the advantages and the joy of a full body, and praise the merits of the well-off and considerate husband.

At the end of the Mani Fori the women elect the fattest and most charming woman in the village as the woman of the year.

Copyright © 1998 El-Hadj Amadou Boubacar

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Young boys, Id al-Fitr (end of Ramadan fast), Niger, 1992

Soro

Oumarou Hamidou 6/28/91

I want to speak about a ceremony called "Soro." It is a very well known ceremony among Fulani people of west and central Africa. The Soro is a way to show one's prowess in public.

Generally the Soro is organized after the harvest, in the cold season, but it could happen also in rare circumstances at other times, but never in the raining season. People choose the cold season between October and January because at that time the harvest is ready, the villagers have a certain peace in their mind.

Also the pasturing young Fulani come in from the bush where they breed their cows in the raining season. The cows come to the village to eat the rest of the crops that the farmers have left in the fields. Since the cows in many cases belong to a whole family instead of to one person, the owners can thus observe their animals.

If the cattle have been well bred and grazed the young Fulani man is rewarded by his father or uncles or anyone who owns the cows he guards. He is usually given a mature cow. The cattle breeders can trade cows with each other at this time.

This season is also the season to celebrate marriages and to invite griots to play on their instruments for people. When there is a marriage, a birth or any call for griots a Soro is certainly planned. The Soro is the salt in a sauce for any kind of ceremony; it is the meat in the stew.

Prowess is the most important value among Fulani. A man must stand in front of any situation. This is the most reason that all ceremonies must principally be headed by a Soro. When a ceremony happens without a Soro it is not respected, and people will not attend it.

The griots are called to come to play for people to relax, and early in the morning the preparations begin. Young men and girls decorate themselves. The second most valued thing in a Fulani society is beauty, everything must be beautiful before being good. Especially the young girls take a lot of time for this; parents and friends come to help.

The most despised thing in Fulani society is to fear, to be afraid, particularly to be afraid of hunger. Among them you dare never say that you feel hungry because they will get up to leave you alone. So no preparation of food will happen on the day of the Soro, and for a whole week before the Soro, the young people will not eat, but will only chew kola nuts, or smoke cigarettes and chew gum.

Late in the afternoon everyone must be at an indicated place far from any family. Old people are forbidden to participate to the ceremony.

At the chosen place people form a circle, a big circle where young men are going to demonstrate their courage and strength with cudgels and where the griots will sing their praises. All groups are invited to watch, like the Zarma and Hausa, but they are forbidden to take part in the demonstration.

When it happens that someone demonstrates who is not among the inviting group, he will be beaten to death and the Soro will stop.

So the few old people present, and other people in the group may enjoy freely the game, as spectators. Young girls also sing the names of the man they love, buy cigarettes for them and encourage the demonstrations.

During the demonstration two men hit each other with cudgels. The other young men arrange between the two men a kind of fight. The men form two groups and the girls one group.

The first man beats another with all his strength, using a cudgel, trying to make him fall. He hits him up to three times. The second man does not fight back but stands and takes the blows. Then the man who was beaten takes his turn; he beats the first man with a cudgel and tries to make him fall. The ceremony goes on, with the two fellows taking turns beating each other.

When a man does not face the cudgel, but falls on the ground to avoid the blow, it is finished for him. He must leave the society because even after his death he will be buried like a dog without any consideration.

The man who causes another man's failure will get a special reward. Girls will sing his name, other men will give him cows. He will get prestige and even his sons will be honored.

As a young man I liked the Soro and I even now like it, but not on all sides. It gives young people an education in prowess and courage, but it is in every case very violent and sometimes very humiliating. The fasting is useful; it makes people endure hunger during a long period, and this urges a man to think about himself, his capacity and future, and about the world. Hunger for a few day can focus one's mind on reality.

The Soro is an important ceremony among the young Fulani. It is like a kind of self-education. The Soro allows people to relax and enjoy life. The fasting makes them think of the world about around them. The ceremony deals with psychology and sociology.

The only bad aspect is that it is very violent and sometimes humiliating. If any change would reduce or eliminate the violence, I think that a Soro ceremony would be a good way of life for any society.

Copyright © 1998 Oumarou Hamidou

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