Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pa Maju Bah - Fula Section Chief in Kenema

Pa Maju's house sits at the top of the hill on the right in this view of Dama Road. Our house was about a quarter mile beyond this on the left. Kenema would be behind us in this picture.

Fulas celebrate at Pa Maju Bah's house on Dama Road in Kenema

(double click on all photos to make them larger)

Fula men outside Pa Maju Bah's house in Kenema (above)

Pa Maju Bah - Fula section chief - Kenema

[Known as Fula in Sierra Leone (also known as Fulani, Fulbe, or Peul elsewhere), this ethnic group was primarily a nomadic people, perhaps the only such nomads in West Africa. In Sierra Leone they were pastorialists and traders, also involved in herding cattle, and in trading all types of goods. The Fula were strong adherents to the Muslim religion. Many had settled in villages all over the country. What was a very impressive trait was that their beef would be herded for hundreds of miles by men on foot. When the cattle arrived in Kenema they would be very thin and very tough. It was not uncommon, by the time of arrival of the beef in our area, for them to have traveled nearly a thousand miles in some cases. Most of the Fula in our area probably came from Guinea.]

Alhadjji Pa Maju Bah (see photo of him above) lived on Dama Road just before the road took a long downhill on the way to downtown Kenema. He was the Fula section chief in our area. He had been to Mecca and thus had the title Alhadji. He was very well-liked. The Fula originally came from north and east of Sierra Leone and are found all over West Africa. In our area they were perhaps best known as cattlemen, although many young men were involved in the selling of tie-died cloth known as Garrah Cloth, and the selling of other items on the street. The Fula women may have been involved in the dying of Garrah as well as the making of wax printed cloth (although women from the Mangingo and Susu groups as well as the Mende and other groups also were involved). I had been told that most of the Fula cattle in our area came from Guinea. Pa Maju was the cattleman for our area and his son, Amado was the butcher who once a week would deliver meat to our doorstep. Pa Maju Bah's group clearly were involved in the small but successful (if not expensive) Kenema meat market. The meat came to us wrapped in newspaper and, would quickly spoil quickly if not refrigerated due to the heat. Amado came by our house weekly to personally deliver the meat. In those days we had a kerosene refrigerator in which we could easily keep foods from spoiling. However if food sat out in the hot and humid air it would spoil within an hour. Unfortunately for us this did happen several times. Amado would leave the meat in a metal box by our door, but if we were away when the meat arrived, by the time we got home we would have to discard the meat due to its spoiling. Needless to say we made efforts to be around for Amado’s weekly deliveries. In our early Kenema days before Amado delivered meat, we got meat down town from a butcher in the market. It was later, after I got to know Amado and his father, we got regular deliveries from him. The beef was best marinated to make it more tender (it could be very tough otherwise).

It was Pa Maju Bah who in 1969 (when the U.S. put a man on the moon) asked me one day when I was passing by his house, if I knew anything about the moon landing. I had read about it in one of the magazines that we could get from time to time. I had heard broadcasts about it on short-wave radio from the U.S. Information Services Radio. But in 1969, communications including TV were difficult where we lived and thus I had never actually seen movies of this landing. With luck, I was able to obtain a documentary movie and projector from the U.S.I.S. (sent to the Peace Corps office) and one night I went back to show him the movie of the landing on the moon. He did not speak English so I was the translator as a large group of his friends hovered about watching. Pa Maju had traveled and was not unworldly. He was a very serene and peaceful man. It was not unusual for him to travel by plane (it was rumored that he was in some way involved in the diamond business). However it was clear that he was disturbed by the U.S. landing on the moon. After my presentation he looked at me and stated how amazed he was by this accomplishment, but that he was very disturbed that, "Americans wanted to play God." He was a devout Muslim. I remember him repeating this several times as we talked, "...why do Americans want to play God?" I walked away realizing that I had no answer appropriate for him.

As the leader of the Fula community in Kenema, Pa Maju Bah was treated almost as royalty by other Fulas in Kenema. He was a very proud and intelligent man, who got along well with the other groups in the Kenema area. He was quiet, lived a simple life in Kenema. Meeting with him was always challenging for me as he often asked me questions that I found difficult to answer. He was also a modest man, despite being very rich by Sierra Leone standards. My sense was that when I knew him he was in his late 50's. His house was about a quarter mile from ours, and sat just above a pasture where he grazed his cattle, and above a swamp where rice was grown. The house itself was rambling, with metal roof, quite large by Kenema standards, yet very simple. He did have electricity. At his house there was always a large crowd of people. When there were Muslim holidays to be celebrated the Fula seemed to celebrate the most. At these wonderful times of celebration it would not be unusual to see the Fulas gathering in front of Pa Maju's house, or coming back on Dama Road from the Kenema Mosque, to carry-on a large celebration of dance (acrobatics) and Fula singing and music. As noted before, the Fula used more stringed-instruments, and flute-like instruments in their song. It had a more Saharan quality to it than the Mende - even at times to me sounding almost North-African. And the Fula men, in their unique and very baggy pants would do acrobatic in their dance. Pa Maju would usually be the center of it all as the area leader, with these wonderful celebrations going on at mid-day in his front yard. I have many a picture of these glorious times as I lived so close and would often pass by on my way either to or from downtown Kenema.

Fula Instruments: [1] The Tamba or Fula Flute [2] The Hoddu - the Fula plucked banjo [3] The Riti (or Ritti) which was a one string, bowed instrument similar to a violin [4] Fula Drums and gourds used for percussion. The Fula also had a shake-shake (used by men) - I do not know its name.
For some sites of both contemporary and traditional Fula music see:

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