Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Me and My Gris Gris

Time for another adventure in Dakar with Dorothy and Wendy - ladies I met through the Dakar Woman's Group. Be warned - some photos may be not so appealing to view but now that I've said that you can be ready for something different but a reality of what is part of the peoples lives here.
Dorothy - a fellow Californian (southern half) - is another kindred traveler here for a year on her own self imposed sabbatical and with no car too! Sold her house years ago and before coming here vacated her last apartment and put everything in storage. What led her here (besides some Senegalese friends she does have here) she went trekking on her own in Spain (her kids are grown and she's on her own!) along the El Camino de Santiago when she came across a restaurant called "Dakar" while on her path. That was the only message she needed.
Now, when I think of Wendy (our Rick Steves of Dakar) I think of  "Windy" the song which came to mind and the following chorus -

Who's tripping down the streets of the city
Smiling at everybody she sees
Who's reaching out to capture a moment
Everyone knows it's Windy

Windy/Wendy - so it's not exact but what does it matter. What matters is we're going to the "Gris Gris" market and Wendy's our guide. This market I come to find out is on a stretch of Avenue Blaise Diagne  that I pass every Friday when I'm on the bus to head to La Pouponnière.  While I thought nothing of it from the bus - not knowing what was being sold - trust me now - I am well aware of it's existence without question!!
What is "gris-gris" - it's an amulet or charm that is worn around a persons waist, neck, arms or legs. Many of the vendors in their stalls will make them and they can be a combination of leather or perhaps snake skin and in the pouch may contain powders from various sources or a verse from the Koran and you use them for protection, to ward off evil or even put a curse on someone.
When you look down the street you see little stall after stall. Each seller - that I recall as only being men - demarcated by an umbrella and a dropcloth of sorts with all his goods - amulets, sacs of powders, leaves, roots, shells and what I would describe as other "good and plenty" which I will get to in a minute. 

This man here is making his signature amulets. And they are all unique from vendor to vendor.

Each vendor displays sacs of various powders and unfortunately I was not able to communicate in this instance to understand what each powder was or what it might offer in terms of healing,  but we could identify a few on our own - the mica chips (blue sac in the foreground)

 dung of some sort in the middle yellow sac

cowerie shells (on the left) and other helpful accessories (in the middle) and yes those packets are just next to a small bowl of birds heads (on the upper right) this is now getting you ready for everything else dead and identifiable that we observed  - from small either alligator or crocodile heads, bird beaks, various horns, tails, claws, porcupine quills, the skins of many animals, feathers, and a variety of hooves.

Wendy inspecting the goods
Dorothy making a purchase - photo by Wendy

Now I know it may be hard to take - but that bag has a head in it of a monkey.
Despite my feelings and they are mixed about what I saw - since I have no way of knowing how any of these items are obtained and in what capacity the animal was in prior to arriving at the market - I really can't judge  -  nor do I want to - I'm in a country of a different culture - and with exuberance to observe and learn and be open -  so who's to say what is 'right' or 'wrong' - the fact is - it just *is* and the truth is I could not (and did not want to)  leave the market myself without a little protection.

Me and My Gri Gri (in my hand) - photo by Wendy

Here's a great article with more insight about the Street Scene

By Naomi Schwarz Seck
01 December 2008

Long before there were antibiotics and X-rays, African healers used traditional remedies, made from the plants, to heal people in their communities. In a downtown market in Senegal's capital, Dakar, Naomi Seck met with vendors who say they are continuing this tradition. But some Senegalese say, without the accountability of an ongoing relationship with a small community, some of these so-called healers are able to sell nothing more than a bag of tricks.

On a traffic-filled street in Senegal's capital, Dakar, cell phone covers compete for space with dried crocodile skulls, as sidewalk vendors offer to cure what ails - all for a reasonable, negotiated fee.
Ibrahima Cisse prepares a gri-gri amulet
Ibrahima Cisse prepares a gri-gri amulet
Nigerian vendor Ibrahima Cisse describes what is in his market stall.
He offers the skin of a red goat and the horn of a goat.

Cissé and his brother, Ismaillah, use these ingredients and others to make traditional West African amulets, called gri-gris.

Cisse says the goat horn is for an amulet that will protect a house from thieves and from anyone who wants to harm the family.
He says they put religious writings, like special excerpts from the Koran, in the horns. Then, the person has to bury it in the entrance-way of their home. It costs about one dollar.
This crowded street outside one of Dakar's biggest stadiums is the place for street-side traditional medicine. All along the side of the stadium, there are numerous stalls to buy gri-gris as well as natural medications.

Just past Cissé's stall, a mural is on the stadium wall.

On the mural, cartoons depict a variety of medical problems: tuberculosis, malaria, miscarriage and more.
Mohammed Sylla sells natural remedies
Mohammed Sylla sells natural remedies
Just beside the mural, Guinean Mohammed Sylla sits by a table covered with bags and jars of powder.
He says, when people are sick they look at the poster to find their sickness. Then he says he can give them the appropriate medication.
Sylla says he is constantly studying and learning about how to treat illnesses. He says he has been training as a traditional healer for about four years.
Long before there were hospitals with modern drugs and equipment, people have turned to natural remedies and traditional rituals. The World Health Organization estimates as much as a quarter of all modern drugs are made from natural ingredients that were first used by traditional healers.

But the WHO also says traditional remedies are often untested and can be ineffective or even dangerous.
Religious writings like this are sewn into amulets
Religious writings like this are sewn into amulets
Charles Katy Diouf, who works for an organization that promotes traditional healing, says in tightly-knit communities, like small villages, the healers are well-known and the results of their treatment can be seen as neighbors either get cured, or do not.
And, he says, for those healers, healing is not about making money.
"They are not healers as profession," he said. "They work the land, they are shepherds, they have to take care of the cattles, and some of them make some business elsewhere. But healing is something that comes, it's knowledge to help the community only."

But millions of Africans are moving to cities like Dakar, where they no longer have access to their village healers.
Street vendors like Sylla can fill the gap. But as traditions evolve in the big city, it seems the traditional accountability has changed as well.
Sylla says he and his teacher moved to Dakar after a few short trips showed them that the traditional healing business was more profitable here.
He says there is no way to tell by looking if someone is selling an effective cure or a fake one, just like you cannot recognize a thief until he steals from you.
International health organizations like the WHO are calling on governments to craft formal regulations for traditional healers and their treatments. Senegal is working to do just that. But for now, in many countries including Senegal, these regulations are far from complete.

1 comment:

  1. What did they recommend for Manning's bout with malaria...or whatever it was? Surely they might've pepped him up whenever he has a relapse.