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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Echoes of Fulladu: Another tragedy strikes (Part 27)

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In the lush landscape of Casamance, where the earth bore the scent of fertile soil and the air hummed with the rhythms of village life, Yerro at barely 5ft 4inches stood tall among his peers, a patriarch respected for his hard work and unwavering commitment to his community. Alongside his trusted friends — Bocar Jawo, Mama Kandeh, Ousman Baldeh, Goundor Wandianga and Mamadou Jamanka — he embarked on a journey that would forever alter the fabric of his life, bound by the bonds of friendship and the shared pursuit of love and family.
It was the 1960s, an era steeped in tradition where the path to matrimony was governed by steadfast rules and rituals. Yerro, renowned for his skill as a farmer and a builder of mud huts and thatched roofs, found himself at the heart of a significant moment in the life of his friend Goundor Wandianga. Goundor, a young man of modest means but unwavering resolve, was embarking on the journey of building a hut in Sareh Gehlajor, a village just across the river from Kanjor. This endeavour was a crucial step in the courtship and marriage process, fulfilling the requirements set forth when he was betrothed to a young woman several years prior.
In the 1960s Casamance, the process of making bricks and laying them with mud was a labour-intensive but essential practice in construction, particularly for building traditional mud huts with thatched roofs. The first step in this process was gathering the necessary materials: clay-rich soil, water, and sometimes organic materials like straw or animal dung for added strength.
Once these materials were collected by Goundor and his peers, the clay-rich soil was mixed with water to form a thick, pliable mixture. This mixture was then left to sit for some time to allow the clay particles to fully absorb the water, creating a workable consistency. During this waiting period, the mixture would often be covered with a layer of straw or other organic materials to prevent it from drying out too quickly.
After the waiting period, the mixture was thoroughly kneaded and shaped into rectangular bricks by hand led by Yerro. The men would then use wooden molds to ensure uniformity in size and shape. These molded bricks were later laid out to dry in the sun for several days, during which time they would gradually harden and strengthen.
Once dried, the bricks were ready to be laid in place using mud mortar. The walls of the hut would be constructed by stacking the bricks one on top of the other, with each layer of bricks separated by a layer of mud mortar. Yerro, one of the skilled craftsmen of the village of Kanjor, with his peers would carefully align each brick, once they were ready for use, to ensure a snug fit and a sturdy structure.
As the sun rose in the sky that day, casting golden rays upon the land, Yerro and his friends rallied to Goundor’s aid. With spirits high, they set to work, their voices mingling with the sounds of hammering and the clatter of bricks that had already by laid to dry in the sun a few days earlier. Amidst the laborious task of bricklaying, conversation flowed freely, punctuated by jests and banter that spoke of camaraderie forged through years of shared experiences.
“Ah, Goundor, my friend, you’re making us work like elephants in the fields just for a chance at marriage!” Bocar jested, his voice carrying over the rhythmic cadence of their work. The sun beat down on the group of friends as they toiled under its unrelenting gaze, their bodies coated in a sheen of sweat, their voices echoing across the open expanse.
“Atleast it is worth it. He will eventually take home a beautiful wife, to start a beautiful life,” Mamadou chipped in.
“As the saying goes, ‘no pain, no gain’, but in this case, it’s more like ‘no laboir, no love’,” Bocar said.
“It’s a testament to a man’s character that, alongside the cows he bestows upon his intended, he demonstrates his strength and dedication through the work of his hands,” Ousman reflected, his words carrying a depth of wisdom and tradition.
In the midst of their jovial exchanges, there lingered a solemn truth to Bocar’s jest — a truth that spoke of the sacrifices and hardships entwined with the pursuit of love. Yerro, revered for his wisdom and foresight, nodded in agreement. “Indeed, my friends, building huts is but a small token compared to the toil our ancestors endured, tilling vast lands as part of their dowries.”
“We still have to cultivate a plot of land for our fathers-in-law as part of the dowry,” Ousman chimed in, his voice tinged with memories of past labours. “Remember when we aided Goundor in plowing and cultivating land for his in-laws? It feels like just yesterday.”
As part of the dowry tradition, when a young man identifies a young girl as his prospective wife and her parents accept the proposal, he is obligated to prepare and cultivate a plot of land for his future in-laws. This task is typically undertaken with the assistance of his peers, reflecting the communal support inherent in the tradition.
“But it is not as extensive as it once was,” Mamadou added softly, his words carrying the weight of tradition and change.
In the the Fulladu region of Kanjor and its surroundings villages, betrothals were a cherished tradition, marking the passage from youth to adulthood. When a girl reached the age of maturity, typically around fifteen years of age, the betrothal would advance to the next stage – marriage. It was then that a young man could approach his prospective in-laws and request to consummate the marriage. This pivotal moment was preceded by a crucial step: the construction of a new hut for the bride’s family by the groom-to-be.
Goundor, his brow damp with sweat as he worked diligently with his tools, offered a rueful chuckle. “You speak the truth, my friends. But for love, we gladly endure.”
He was the last among his peers to take a bride, burdened by the responsibility of caring for his ailing mother. Orphaned at the tender age of three, with his mother left incapacitated after his birth, Goundor was raised by a single parent who never remarried following the loss of his father. As the sole child, once he was old enough to recognise his situation, he shouldered the dual role of son and caregiver, devoting himself to his mother’s well-being. Yet, constrained by poverty, Goundor hesitated to pursue any romantic interests, when he became old enough to marry, fearing rejection and prioritizing his familial duties above all else.
At one juncture, his mother, in a clandestine move, confided in the village chief about her son’s predicament. This led to the alkalo summoning Goundor and directly inquiring about his situation and wishes. In a remarkable turn of events, the alkalo himself led a delegation to formally request the hand of Goundor’s chosen bride. To his astonishment, Goundor discovered that the villagers held him in high esteem, impressed and proud of his devoted care for his mother. In their eyes, he was the epitome of filial piety, and they eagerly desired him as their son-in-law.
Notwithstanding, in their community, the journey to marriage transcended mere matters of the heart; it was steeped in tradition and duty. Each step of the process was meticulously orchestrated to ensure the prosperity and stability of both families involved. As he toiled together with his friends beneath the blazing sun, Goundor found solace in their collective effort, buoyed by their steadfast support.
As the walls rose higher, wooden supports would often be used to provide stability and prevent collapse. Thatched roofs made from local grasses and palm leaves were already prepared and would be added once the walls were complete, providing protection from the elements and completing the construction of the traditional mud hut.
As the golden rays of the setting sun painted the sky in hues of orange and pink, a sudden calamity unfolded — a stray brick, dislodged from its place, soared through the air with alarming velocity, finding its mark on Yerro’s unsuspecting face. In an instant, the jovial atmosphere shattered, replaced by a chorus of gasps and urgent exclamations as Yerro staggered backward, clutching his injured eyes. Rushing to his aid, his friends surrounded him, their expressions a mixture of shock and concern as they grappled with the unforeseen turn of events.
After the initial shock had passed and Yerro’s injuries were tended to as best as they could manage — washing away the mud and blood from his eyes — the gravity of the situation settled upon them like a heavy fog. In the waning light of day, the harsh reality of life’s unpredictability loomed large, casting a somber veil over their once-lively gathering.
But amidst the shadows of uncertainty, there remained a glimmer of hope. While Yerro’s eyes remained swollen and unseeing, the bleeding had stopped. The young men, unsure of what to do next, gathered their thoughts and resources, pondering their next course of action. With a collective determination, they decided to fashion a makeshift sling to transport Yerro across the river to Kanjor, where he could receive further attention from the village’s herbalist.
Pooling together their shirts and any available cloth, they carefully crafted a sturdy sling, ensuring that Yerro would be secure and comfortable during the journey. Using sturdy logs found nearby, they fashioned a makeshift stretcher, upon which Yerro was gently laid. With solemn resolve, they lifted their friend, bearing the weight of his injured body with unwavering solidarity.
As they made their way to the bank of the river, word of Yerro’s accident spread like wildfire through the village. Concerned villagers gathered along the riverbank, their worried murmurs echoing in the evening air. With measured steps and hearts heavy with apprehension, the group approached the water’s edge, where a small boat awaited to ferry them across.
With practiced efficiency, they carefully maneuvered Yerro onto the boat, ensuring his comfort and safety for the journey ahead. With each stroke of the oar, they drew closer to Kanjor, their thoughts consumed by the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
But amidst the darkness of the unknown, their bond remained unbroken, a beacon of strength and solidarity in the face of adversity. And though the road ahead was fraught with challenges, they faced it together, united by the unbreakable ties of friendship and shared hardship.

To be continued.

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