Of Water and Spirit
published: Aug. 23, 2010, recorded: August 2010, views: 1021
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Malidoma Patrice Some thinks he is in the West in order to "tell about (his) people in anyway (he) can and to take back to (his) people the knowledge (he) gain(s) about this world." As one of the many tribal customs he describes in his book Of Water and the Spirit, names hold an important role in defining a person's life. The Dagara believe that every individual comes into this life with a specific destiny. Some explains that names can be what he describes as "problematic" when they describe the task of their bearer because it is a constant reminder to a child of their life's work. Malidoma, for example, means "friend of the enemy/stranger." As this name suggests, Malidoma Patrice Some has befriended the enemy to his people, which has been colonizing Westerners who have intruded on the lives and lifestyles of the Dagara, since the early 1900's. Some has written Of Water and the Spirit, overcoming difficulties in devising accurate translations between the Dagara language and English, to provide a remarkable, first-hand look at the Dagara culture. He has written this book to bring greater understanding to the members of the West about his culture and, by doing so, has brought a greater understanding to members of the West about the West itself.
Malidoma was born in Bukino Faso in West Africa, in 1956. Kidnapped at age four by one of the Jesuit missionaries that was trying to create a native missionary "force" to assist in converting more African people, Malidoma attended a boarding school for fifteen years. Here he learned about what he calls "the white man's reality," which consisted of history, geography, literature, anatomy, mathematics, and Christianity.
When Malidoma was twenty years old, he escaped from the boarding school to return to his people. However, he soon discovered he no longer speak the same language as his people, since he had not been allowed to use that language in fifteen years. Some could not speak to his family until he relearned what he had forgotten and they could not fully understand each other until he unlearned what he had been taught. In order to relearn the reality of his people and be accepted by them, he had to undergo a month-long Dagara initiation process.
At 22, Malidoma was asked, by his elders, to relay the Dagara culture to the West in order to bring a greater understanding and acceptance of it. This was a difficult task for him for a number of reasons. He did not know how to describe his culture to a culture that does not accept much of what is central to their beliefs. He was unsure how his story would be accepted, to say the least. Malidoma holds three master's degrees and two doctorates from the Sorbonne and Brandeis University, and has taught at the University of Michigan.
Malidoma Patrice Some now sees his position as a two-way passage of information. He seeks to bring greater understanding through his work.
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