Monday, March 24, 2008

Fetishes from Kissidougou

March 24th 2008

A few weeks back, I went on a big round trip through Guinea. I have now spent a good 2 1/2 years in this country and there were still a few spots that I haven't seen before.

The road or sometimes the dirt track first lead me to Faranah in Central Guinea and from there to Kissidougou in the forest region of the country. After Kissidougou, I turned North to Kankan in Upper Guinea.

Faranah is the birth place of Sékou Touré, Guinea's first president who had kicked out the French in 1958. He had answered the the colonialists offer of a slow transition into independence with the memorable words "Nous préférons la liberté dans la pauvreté à la richesse dans l’esclavage", "We prefer freedom in poverty to riches in slavery". Sékou Touré like many after him started as a liberator and then turned into a paranoid oppressor who tortured and killed thousands of intelectuals, opositionists or even close friends who he suspected of plotting against him. The only part of his promise that held any truth was the poverty. In Faranah, he built a large presidential palace, a conference centre and even an air strip, big enough to accommodate a Concorde... nowadays the wide boulevards are deserted, showing more dirt then tar on their surface and the entire little city seems forgotten, lost in time and filled with the scent of decay.

The drive from Faranah to Kissidougou on the other hand is a real pleasure. After the bumpy roads before it almost feels like flying. The vegetation becomes lusher and lusher, Kissidougou is the entryway into Forest Guinea. The city itself is very friendly and lively. Despite the fact that the original Animistic religion of its inhabitants was moslty given up in favor of Islam, some people still managed to hold onto their ancient traditions.

After spending a few days in Kissidougou, I turned North to visit Kankan which turned out to be one depressing shit hole of a city with filthy, overpriced hotels and no electricity. I left again in the early morning to drive straight back to Conakry and crossed the Niger river just after dawn.

This is a little video clip I put together from footage shot with my digital photo camera that I just held out of the car window and pressed "record video". The quality is horrible, it's shaky and all but it might give you a bit of an impression of how beautiful traveling in Africa can be.


The soundtrack is Les Ambassadeurs with "Mandjou", a praise song on the crazed dictator from Faranah. Still, an unbelievably stunning piece of music from 1978 that was a huge sucess all over West Africa. Still to this day, you can hear this song being played loudly on someones stereo any given day while walking through the steamy, hot streets of downtown Conakry.

My main purpose on this trip was to look for old fetish statues and other animistic artifacts. I got real lucky while spending those few days in Kissidougou.

Please keep in mind that although all pieces pictured below are authentic, none of them have been used recently. I would never buy stuff that is still in use or things that might have been stolen out of shrines. All of these items belonged to a deceased witch doctor who did not have anyone to continue his tradition.

One proof of authenticity is the orange residue in the centre of the pieces. The fetisheur would chew kola nuts and spit the stuff onto the fetish. Sometimes local moonshine, distilled from fermented palm sap would be used along with the nuts. I spent a night drinking this highly potent stuff with some of the locals and well, let's just say it was something else...

This is probably the most impressive item I found on this trip. It was so covered in red dust that only after arriving back home and after carefully removing layers of dirt with a soft brush that I discovered the monkey skull in the centre. The snails around here grow to a size of about 6 inches so don't get a wrong idea about the size of this object, it's fairly big.

This is a pouch decorated with teeth from a wild boar. Hidden inside is a small mask made of stone:

These small stone statuettes were designed after the death of important local figures. People would use them to communicate with the deceased and to ask for help and advice. They were made and used by the Kissi people and are called "Pomdo" or "Vieux Cadavre":


Joe said...

Wow. Interesting finds, albeit different from the kinds of finds usually posted here. I'm glad to hear you're diligent about where you source this stuff.

Al said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary film! Do you have any details of where & when it will be shown?

Frank said...

So far, all that's for certain is that the documentary is being done and that it will be released on DVD. When, I don't know...

Anonymous said...

Mate I love your blog and on top of the amazing music now you're showing crazy rare relics that most of us could never set eyes upon, just wanted to say thanks for all your efforts and keep up the amazing work - Mike Z in Oz

Anonymous said...

"Frasier" will cream his jeans when he sees these things! No, seriously, PLEASE keep up your fascinating blog...can' wait for the new mix. Thanks eye opener!

Alvis said...

Since I discovered your blog I've become a total addict. I got into African funk through the mainstream CD compilations available, but you are something else. This is the stuff I want to hear. I don't know whether to be jealous or just in awe. Having spent some time in out of the way places I'm loving the travelogs that go with the sounds. I thought crate diggers in American had it good, but the closest they come to adventure is fighting off the roaches in the back of whatever warehouse they end up in. I can't believe how deep this stuff will go. No sleep till the next mix! A real tough one? - can't wait......

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for the new mix Frank. Blog is awesome and your writing is great. Keep up the good work!

Dan said...

When you said the priest consulted the "Fa" for you, is that essentially the same thing as Ifá divination practiced by the Yoruba, Igbo and Benin people? That stuff works mighty well. Sounds like it might be some kind of short-hand Ifá, if there was only one palm nut. Did he use a divining platter, circular with the face of Esu carved into the edge of the plate opposite the priest? Make sure you take care of your duties to Esu. If you're traveling through Benin and Nigeria you might see little stone lumps at crossroads, which might have cowrie shell eyes embedded in them. That's Esu, god of the crossroads and potentiality. He turns good to bad and bad to good. He is the one who throws the stone today and kills the bird yesterday. Be careful.

Thanks so much for the blog, it's fantastic. Best of luck to you.

I'm writing up a grant proposal to get $ to study Ifá in Oyo, Nigeria. Not sure if I actually want to go through with it, but it's an option.

Check out the website:

Frank said...

Hi Dan,

not sure if the "Fa" is simular to the "Ifà". It was a kola nut used not a palm nut and the kola nut that was split in 4 equal pieces, the priest read Agbo's answers out of how the pieces came to rest on a simple glass plate...

In any case, I seem to be finding more records than on any other trip before...

themusicologist said...

top the music.
thanks for sharing

PHILGOOD said...

Hello Frank, fantastic work ! Can't wait for the DVD !
DJ PhilGood Lyon - France

Alan said...

Hi Frank !

Nice video, reminds me of any road trip out of town in southern Mali or in Ivory Coast and great music too ... Les Ambassadeurs that's Salif Keita isn't it ? Do you know any other singer in that band ? I seem to remember there was another singer with him ... they were playing (in the beginning) at "The motel" in Bako Djikoroni (I think)in Bamako ... wasn't it Mory Kante ??

Any way thanks again for sharing your music, pictures and stories with us ! It is a great blog !
Take care,

Frank said...

Hi Alan,

sorry for the late response, I just moved from Conakry to Brooklyn... 30 hours of air travel from Guinea to NYC via Bamako and Paris. I'm still wiped out by a jet lag from hell. We also had to get our three adopted African stray dogs through European and US customs... I'll stop whining around now, I guess you got the idea.

Here's a link to a family tree of Les Ambassadeurs & Rail Band de Bamako that should clear up all your questions:

The whole Radio Africa site, done by Australian music enthusiast Graeme Counsel is an incredible source of information.

Expect much more music from Guinea and Mali soon. Before leaving Guinea, I schooled and employed my friend Amadou Baldé as a record hunter who will now scout the axis Conakry-Kankan-Bamako for vinyl. I called him yesterday and he said he's already found loads of stuff.

zamali said...

et tu ne t'es pas fait marabouter avec tous ces trucs voodoo ? ;)
Même pas par une jolie gazelle ?

Pas possible !

Très belles pièces en tout cas.