Chanter le baja ni: Abirè le Voyant Dogon

English summary: see below.

La culture dogon est bien connue, mais un élément de cette culture, d'une extrême richesse et d'une importance capitale, a échappé à l'attention publique. Il s'agit du baja ni (baju nun en Jamsay), un cycle de chants bien au centre des rites des funéraires, mais qui se déroule en pleine nuit avec peu de spectateurs. Ces chants ont été composés par une des grandes figures de l'histoire dogon, Abirè Goro. Chanteur aveugle, il a parcouru la plaine du Gondo et les villages de la falaise au 19ième siècle, et a légué un riche héritage à sa postérité, un énorme acquis non seulement de chansons, mais aussi de prédictions sur le futur du pays, toutes enveloppées dans des légendes sur sa vie. Cet ouvrage révèle l'ampleur de ces traditions, et s'appuie sur une performance complète enregistrée en 2005 dans le village de Tireli; le texte, chanté en Jamsay, est transcrit et traduit avec une introduction sur la vie d'Abirè, ce chanteur-voyant, figure clé dans l'histoire des Dogon, voire du Mali.

Chantés comme deuil collectif, ces baja ni recèlent un trésor d'information sur la culture Dogon, et ouvrent une voie surprenante dans la pensée dogon touchant aux grandes questions de vie et mort, de guerre et paix, et finalement sur le destin de l'être humain.

Ce livre est apparu en tant que ASC Publications Occasionnelles; Numéro 37, 2020. Il comprend un CD contenant une sélection des chansons décrites.

English summary

In the 19th century a blind singer roamed the plains and cliff side area of the Dogon in Central Mali. His name was Abirè Goro, and both as a singer and a prophet he gained a huge reputation that still reverberates among the Dogon, who not only still remember and quote his many local predictions, but still sing his main legacy, a cycle of songs called the baja ni. As part of the funeral rituals, these chants are sung during a full night, in a performance lasting seven hours. The texts relate about history of the villages, local wars, village life, but are mainly songs of mourning, expressions of the essence of life as seen by the Dogon: life, death and destiny, the joy of life and the ways to cope with its inevitable demise.

This book encapsulates such a song performance, taking the reader to one particular night in one cliff side village, Tireli, where on 8-9 June 2005 some 83 songs of the prophet/singer were performed by a large group of singers. With this performance they took a fond farewell from one of them who had died. For the first time, the texts of these baja ni songs have been transcribed, translated and put into print, with extensive comments and explanations of the often cryptic and symbolic wording. An elaborate introduction gives an overview of the prophet’s life and times, of the ways the Dogon have kept this legacy alive and its place in the funeral proceedings, and delves into the philosophy of life that emanates from these songs. The last chapter deals with the dynamics of these chants, comparing the performance of the book with a series of earlier recordings, since this book is based upon data spreading 40 years.

This book has appeared as ASC occasional publications; Issue 37, 2020. It contains a CD with a selection of the songs described. An English translation of the book will follow.

Author(s) / editor(s)

Walter E.A. van Beek, Atimè Dogolu Saye, Oumarou Sambo Ongoi

About the author(s) / editor(s)

Walter van Beek is a retired research fellow at the ASCL. The ethnography of the Mandara Mountains, in particular the Kapsiki/Higi in the North of Cameroon, forms a permanent element in his work. In Mali the Dogon of Central Mali form the first focus of his research.

Atimè Dogolu Saye has been working for many years now as assistant to Walter van Beek, and transcribed and translated the texts. He lives in Tireli, and heads the large family into which the first author has been adopted, succeeding his father Dogolu, the ‘older brother’ of Van Beek.

Oumarou Sambo Ongoi is a linguist, who wrote a thesis on Jamsay phonology, the Dogon language the songs are performed in. He lives in Toronto, Canada, as a French language teacher. Because the singers speak Toro so Dogon, Ongoiba’s expertise in the language of Abirè has been crucial for this book.

How to order

Order this book in the ASCL web shop (€ 15,00). From 14 February 2020, the book will include a CD containing a selection of the songs described. A partir du 14 février 2020, le livre comprendra un CD contenant une sélection des chansons décrites.