The extraordinary, mind-blowing, and brilliant Malidoma Some’s, Of Water and the Spirit Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, introduces me deeply on traditional cultures and spiritual experience in the Dagara community. Being an autobiography of Some’, it reflected the life of young Africans during the pre-colonial and post- colonial period of Africans’ ways of life.
Personally, the highlights of the true meaning of birth among the Burkina Faso Dagara community, the kidnapping by Jesuit missionaries, the effort to indoctrinate Some’ with the God of Christians, and his initiation when he escaped back into the Dagara community attracted a lot of my interest to read the story (Some’ 2).
Through my understanding, a lot of extraordinary and magical events were being experienced in Dagara community, which was mainly based on culture and rituals performed by them. Therefore, my most thematic concerns to the narrative were culture and rituals of the Dagara society in relation to Africans’ pre-colonial and post-colonial lifestyles.
While reading the story, I realized various aspects about the cultures of the western as well as the native Afro-Americans. At some point in the book, I realized how the native people were prepared for the interaction of their cultures and the missionaries’.
In fact, at the age of four, Some’ was told by his grandfather that he would travel to the west “to acquire their (west) culture and civilization so that he could relate it to their own culture” (Some’ 2). I also learnt the value of names in Dagara community: I was especially fascinated by the fact that names were deemed to carry a significant role in defining individual’s life.
Dagara community considered names as problematic when they are used to show the task of the holder since they remain as persistent reminders to the children of their life duty. For instance, Some’s name meant a friend to a stranger or an enemy. Interestingly, as his name portrayed, it turned out that Some’ was befriending an enemy to his community, who was colonizing their people and at the same time intruding into their lifestyle and lives (Some’ 4).
Additionally, I came to learn that due to language and cultural differentiation in the traditional African societies such as the Dagara community, one had to go through certain cultural initiation process in order to be welcomed in his or her respective society. For instance, when Some’ was in boarding school -before he escaped and returned to his people, he was unable to speak the language his community was speaking, and therefore he had to restudy what he had forgotten for at least 16 years (Some’ 10).
In fact, in order to relearn his people’s reality and be received by them, Some’ had to go through a month-long initiation process of Dagara community. I therefore consider Some’s community come back episodes in the novel as a tip for a better understanding of both Western and African cultures.
In fact, I consider Of Water and Spirit to be Some’s way of exposing the west to African culture and to further make westerners appreciate their culture. This is because the similarities between different aspects of Dagara culture and the behavior of missionaries are the most known elements in the novel. Moreover, book significantly enlightened how westerners engaged in beliefs and religious systems of the Africans by embracing some of the indigenous world positive values.
Another important aspect in Of Water and Spirit is the significance of children in the culture of African community and the western community. Dagara community perceived children to be very important and considered raising a child to be an entire community’s responsibility. In fact, Dagara people believed that children are the only hope as they symbolize the possibility of the future.
There was free roaming of children among parents to ensure that a child enjoyed love of another family before getting back to their own homes. On the other hand, for the Western culture, education was the most important idea, and they believed that children’s life at school are the only important part of their future experience (Some’ 42). I believe that such notions about children were to encourage the culture of collective responsibility with regards to raising children in the Western and African communities.
Additionally, Some’s book exposed me to cultural idea of expressing individual feelings among African community, especially as a method of relieving a person from grief. When Some’s Grandfather died, he narrated the complex cultural burial ceremony. Part of this practice was to enable everybody to release his or her grief. Interestingly, the Dagara community believed that an adult who could not weep was taken to be dangerous and was considered to have forgotten the space emotion takes in an individual’s life.
Another captivating theme in Of Water and Spirit, which I was able to identify with, was the different rituals practiced by the Dagara community. There was a vivid and unique spiritual experience among the Dagara community. I realized how rituals were considered to be powerful intercession on various perspectives during the pre-colonial period in African communities.
For instance, they formed significant component of the community’s religious expressions and assure connection with their gods. Healing rituals could bring relatives together from extended to immediate family or from the community as a whole. Indeed, Some’ stresses that rituals played a significant role in the awareness of the Dagara community:
Local people are local people since there are no machines between gods and them. However, machines should not bar the door to spiritual world as they are the routes through which the community understands what is happening in their environment. Instead, when machines speak on behalf of gods, people should be forced to listen, and even more force should be applied to vibrate with the dominion of nature (Some’ 17).
The fact that rituals for healing when perfectly performed was seen to act as a tool to get particular healing effects is very fascinating aspect about the community. Individuals who were performing the rituals were deemed to enhance the ritual powers through their innate healing gifts. I therefore realized that rituals had special meanings to the Dagara community as they believed that each served a specific purpose in their communal life.
The story reminds us that every community needs to learn about their ancestors and elders by realizing the supernatural aspects of life and purposes of mitigation on the imaginations. By concentrating on the culture and custom of the two communities, I think the author wanted to show how preserving ones value was very important to each community.
The cultural events in the book are meant to inform the Africans that their customs should be well preserved even if they get into the modern civilization of the west. Some’ uses his book to expose the clash between the western civilization and the African indigenous cultures. Of Water and Spirit therefore underscore that every community has its own cultural beliefs and ways of life which they adopt to ensure that every person lives by the will of their people.
Some’, Malidoma. Of Water and the Spirit Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman. New York: Arkana Penguin, 1994.