Mysterious Niger: masubori - "dancing on the edge of the sword"

Pconsolation in the Sahara, frankly, is not sugar. And although our path ran along its southern outskirts - in a strip of "bright" savannas and semi-deserts, the hot breath of the Sahara, dousing with dry heat on the thin walls of our dilapidated, shortness of breath bus, turned its interior into a real sauna. However, the holiday in Tahoua, which coincided with the end of the month of Ramadan, became another interesting moment of our trip to Niger. Holy fools and masubori are simply unforgettable.

Arrival in Tahoua - the oldest city of the Republic of Niger

In Tahoua, one of the oldest trading cities in the Republic of Niger and Africa, located at the intersection of ancient caravan routes, we arrived in the afternoon. Wet, dazed after a three-hour steam room, with great pleasure they plunged into the saving coolness of the hotel. My short rest was interrupted by the appearance of Monsieur Umaru, our Travel Guideaccompanying us on this trip.

driving around niger

“Stop lying around, get ready, otherwise we’ll be late for the holiday,” he said, rather unceremoniously pushing me in the side.

I spread my arms, rolled my eyes and pretended to be asleep.

“Well, whatever you like,” Monsieur Umaru grinned, “look, don’t regret it later, you will miss a lot of interesting things!”

He left, slamming the door, and I sat up in bed and thought. Last day in the city of Zinder we watched festive ceremonies on the sacred hill and in the Sultan's palace, and it was really interesting.

The fact is that our trip to the hinterland of Niger coincided with the end of the month of Ramadan. Although Islam is not the state religion of the country, 90 percent of the population are Muslims who strictly observe the prescriptions of the Koran. Ramadan is a time of severe trial. From sunrise to sunset, the faithful are required to observe the strictest fast - not a crust of bread, not a sip of water.

With the onset of darkness, people exhausted by hunger and thirst rush to catch up ... There is almost no time left for sleep ... In the conditions of Niger, where it is 50C during the day in the shade, it is very, very difficult to maintain such a regime. Perhaps that is why the end of Ramadan is universally celebrated with massive fun holidays, which often include rituals and ceremonies dating back to the pre-Islamic traditional culture of local African peoples.

Onward to the holiday!

Overcoming a moment of weakness, I stood up. After some time, together with a friend of the Estonian Raivo Sersant and Monsieur Umaru, we were already at a small stadium-like square, surrounded on two sides by stands. People flocked from all over the city and its suburbs.

People of Niger

On the simpler one, peasants, artisans, small shopkeepers, and children sat and stood. On the other - with a protective visor from the sun and rain - the nobility settled down: the emir and his retinue, rich merchants, businessmen, local politicians. Their wives in expensive clothes, sparkling with massive gold jewelry, sat on the same platform, but in its left half, apart from the men.

Girls from Niger

We found three empty seats in the bottom row of the "prestigious" stand. The celebration began with music and dancing. As in a kaleidoscope, performers changed, they were replaced by eloquent speakers. During the breaks, donations were collected for various charitable and charitable causes.

Meanwhile, the heat subsided somewhat, and a long-awaited coolness blew. Forgetting about fatigue, we enthusiastically followed what was happening. I felt great satisfaction from the fact that I understood these singing and having fun people - because they spoke in the language of Hausa, which I studied for five long years at the university, and then, for even longer ten years, I never had the opportunity to put into practice .

A strange tradition or an honorary holy fool at a holiday

And now I felt myself not an outside observer, but an accomplice in this noisy, dynamic action. Unexpectedly, the smooth flow of the holiday was interrupted. The opposite podium exploded with cries of delight and approval, whistling and clatter, everyone jumped up.

nigerian people

- Has a boss arrived? Raivo asked. I shrugged in bewilderment. If an important guest has come, then why did the tribune of those in power suddenly fall silent and tensely freeze?

To the incessant screams and whistles, three strange-looking people appeared in the arena: cut like a typewriter, dressed in mantles resembling prison pajamas. One was diligently playing a peculiar musical instrument—a milk carton with two strings attached to it; another furiously beat the iron hoop with a mallet, and the third ...

It is necessary to say especially about the third: stocky, dense, with a pear-shaped head, he moved around the arena with soft cat-like jumps, stopping from time to time and making terrible faces to the audience. His mobile face alternately expressed either horror and anger, or surprise and confusion, and finally froze in a grimace of predatory joy ...

“Typical hippo cat,” I thought. Grabbing a microphone standing on the edge of the platform and turning his face to the honorary rostrum, he began to sing. At first, I could not make out a single word - whistles and screams interfered, but in a continuous musical-speech stream, first individual words, and then whole sentences, began to clear up. I listened with my mouth open in amazement, feeling my ears and face flush with color.

What is he singing? Raivo asked.

- He sings ditties, - I answered, - hooligan ditties.

— About what?

- Scolding the noble people of the city who are sitting here.

- Strongly scolds?

So strong I can't even express it!

- It's clear, - Raivo summed up, - So, there will be a mess. - And he began to busily prepare two of his cameras "for battle".

In the meantime, the “behemoth” completely sold out: he famously debunked the “fathers of the city”, pointing his finger at them and calling them by name, did not forget to remember their wives, listing, to the enthusiastic cries of the crowd, their imaginary and true advantages and disadvantages - in a word, he tried with might and main.

In a normal situation, such insults would be fraught with dire consequences for the daredevil - a huge fine, prison, and even death. But in this case, none of the offended, at least outwardly, did not show their indignation or anger, moreover, some even tried to portray a semblance of a smile. I leaned over to Monsieur Umar for clarification.

“He is crazy, a fool, he is not responsible for what he says and does,” whispered Umaru. “But his presence is obligatory at all major holidays. Such is the tradition.

So that's it, local holy fool! I remembered everything I had ever read on this subject, and the essence of what was happening became clear. What we observed was by no means the action of a reckless bully or rebel, but a kind of ritual of social psychotherapy.

In societies divided into classes and estates, social conflicts inevitably arose, which contradicted the religious and communal norms of behavior preserved by many African peoples, which prescribed members of the community "existence in the world."

Behind the outer shell of decency and unanimity, envy, hatred, and intra-group struggle often boiled up, threatening to destroy the fragile structure of the communal organization. This is where the fools came into play.

At big holidays, when people gathered, they began to sing and talk about what in this society, according to the existing tradition, they did not openly talk about. With their help, hidden, smoldering conflicts became the subject of discussion for the entire population.

The arrogant rich and power-hungry were reminded that their high position was fragile. The offended and oppressed felt avenged for a short while - watching with pleasure how the arrogant nobility shuddered under a hail of insults and ridicule. The accumulated negative emotions burst out with explosions of Homeric laughter, social tension somewhat decreased ...

... The final volt of the "behemoth" was truly brilliant. Having sung the last verse, he suddenly lowered his pants and, turning his back to the venerable audience, exposed his bare ass. The people rejoiced! It seemed that the sky would collapse from applause and cries of delight.

The mystery of the sorcerers of Niger masubori

But now the applause died down, the "people's" tribune calmed down, the "best" people of the city again became important and impregnable. And four strong half-naked men appeared on the square.

“These are masubori — sorcerers and mediums, with the help of which the spirits of the ancestors of the “bori” communicate with people,” Umaru explained. “Thanks to the spirits of the masubori, they can walk on hot coals without any damage to themselves, dance for days and nights, cut and stab the body with swords .

— Cutting and stabbing with swords? I asked.

“Well, yes,” Monsieur Umaru replied, “it’s not for nothing that they are also called “dancing on the edge of the sword.”

- Everything is clear, - said Raivo, - let's move closer.

We moved to the very edge of the arena. Masubori, meanwhile, obeying the commands of their elder, began a leisurely smooth dance, mesmerizing with monotonous repetitions of the same movements.

Soon the rhythm of the tom-tams increased sharply, the movements of the dancers became sharper, more impetuous, at some point, synchronously pushing off the ground, they did a series of three somersaults and froze in their tracks.

“The spirits have entered them,” Monsieur Umar whispered. Daggers appeared in the hands of the Masubori. Waving them, tossing and catching on the fly, the masubori resumed the dance; sticking the daggers in a row into the ground, with the point up, they deftly jumped over them; but then they stopped again, froze.

The rhythm changed again - the beats of the tom-toms became heavier, slower. Grasping the stick with their left hand, the Masubori began to strike them hard with daggers, obviously demonstrating their sharpness - chips flew in all directions. There was no doubt: indeed, the daggers were well sharpened. The two sorcerers stuck out their tongues and slashed them hard with a gleaming blade.

Catching the sorcerers in the scope of the camera, I pressed the shutter. Alas! The device did not work, but there was something to shoot: the masubori spun in a whirlwind dance, slashing the neck, chest, stomach with wide, encircling blows. A woman sitting nearby screamed and covered her face with her hands.

Soon, the technique of blows changed - under the sharp cries and whistles of the older masubori, they began to inflict stabbing blows on themselves - the illusion of penetration of the shiny blades into the body was complete. I involuntarily closed my eyes, expecting to see splashing streams of blood, but there were none.

The spectators roared excitedly all around, Raivo, sweating with tension, like a cowboy from a western, “fired” with both hands from his long-focus cameras. Subsequently, having carefully studied all the photographs, we, unfortunately, did not find a single one that fixes the moment of “sticking” the tip of the dagger into the body of the masubori. And having carefully examined the sorcerers after the holiday, I did not find a single scratch on their body.

— How do they do it? I asked Monsieur Umaru at the hotel.

“A man with a strong spirit can do anything,” he chuckled. And ironically, I agreed with him.

Of course, I did not share the views of Monsieur Umaru about "spirits", but, on the other hand, we ourselves know that people endowed with a strong spirit can really achieve a lot of things that are inaccessible to others. As for the manipulation of daggers, I could not find out their secret from the masubori.

It is not surprising what kind of professional will reveal the secret of his craft to the first comer? However, maybe this is not such a secret and one of the readers of knows the answer ...

Никита Береговой

Author on the TRAVEL GUIDE website Considers himself an amateur traveler. Engineer by education, IT specialist. She loves computer graphics, travel and interior design. My favorite holiday destination is Thailand, but I wouldn’t mind visiting old Europe. Traveled to 18 countries on 3 continents. In his free time from work and travel, he devotes himself to his house, which he built from scratch almost single-handedly. Promises to delight everyone with useful and interesting information...

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