Dausi

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The Dausi represents a massive complex of historical and mythological dramas associated with the development of the peoples of the Sahel region in Northern Western African. These oral traditions and songs were ancient in the area long before Leo Frobenius, the German ethnologist, visited the Sahel from 1899 to 1915 and collected some of them for translation into German. What is clearly revealed in the corpus of African oral traditions from this region is the relationship between the ancient Garamante people found in the writings of Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Actually, the ancient city of Ghana seems to have been linked to the current city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, through a series of historical events.
According to the Dausi, there was a twin-city called Garama. One section of the city was for women and the other section was for men. During a great annual festival, the men and women could come together for social and physical interactions, and after that time, the women would become pregnant. This twin-ness of the city lasted until a great king named Ghasir ascended the throne and decreed that the city should become one.
There is a legend that Alexander, the conqueror of Egypt, visited this region, where he met the great warrior women of Africa. He was informed by one of the sages of the region that if he attacked the women and won, the people would say that he was a coward who only fights women. However, the sage told him, if he attacked the women and lost, the people would say that he was a weakling because he was defeated by women.
The Dausi record the history of the Garamantes who controlled a region from Libya to Niger. It is said that the Garamantes founded the town of Agada and other cities in the Sahel and moved closer to Niger when the Arabs invaded the region after the 9th century AD. In the Dausi, one learns that there was an ideal city (it might have been Ouagadougou) that was composed of the four cities of the epic: Agada, Jerra, Ghana, and Siila. Some have speculated that the names Ghana, Jenne, Guinea, and Garama refer to the same town. It is not clear in the Dausi that these towns are one city. We know, of course, that the four cities were founded one after another. The city of Ouagadougou was built and destroyed four times. The fact that it kept coming back meant that it was a miraculous city that prospered and grew wealthy.
In the Dausi, the story is told that every year in this great city a girl was sacrificed to Bida, the serpent deity who lived in a pond near the Niger River. Every year Bida would fly over the great city and spew gold out of its mouth like a golden dust storm. One year, the girl who was to be sacrificed was called Sia Yattai-Bari. She was the most beautiful of the girls in the city. She had a lover whose name was Mamadi Sefe Dekote, the Silent Sword. He was the owner of a sword that was longer than any sword in the city, and he honed it to perfection so that when he used it to cut a grain of millet, the sword edge did not make a sound. There was no one that Mamadi Sefe Dekote feared, and he was honored by both Sia Yattai-Bari and Bida, the serpent. Soon Mamadi married the girl and became the protector of the serpent Bida.

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Further Reading

  • Dausi. (1971). Grassire's Lute: A West African Epic. New York: Dutton. Translated and interpreted by Alta Jablow from Leo Frobenius, Spielmannsgeschichten der Sahel, Jena, 1921.
  • Okpewho, I. (1979). The Epic in Africa: Toward a Poetics of the Oral Performance. New York: Columbia University Press.