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 I might have been a bit too stoned when editing this on an old Videonics board. It's also super pixely cause it's been compressed heavily to upload from here in Guinea cause the internet is sloooow... 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.
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 so the family sold it all to a grocer store. No tourist souveir shops in Kissidougou...
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":