The komo is thirsty; the power grid could go at any moment. Where can we get more juice?
Ah, go ask the dawn’s griot, that rooster. If he didn’t crow, the sky would never redden. He flaps up to the roof and looks all around. He waits. Feels the eyes of the night spirits greedy on the teeth of his comb.
Who among men could be so unafraid? The four-legged stool in the courtyard is silent; it hoards its stories. The granary guard dog’s nose twitches with fear, though the faintest rustle of his chain makes the nighttime walker soil his pants.
Without the right words, no action can bear fruit. We shrink into thin shadows, moonlit things. Who gave this scrawny bird such power?
Ringed in gardens, shaded by kapok trees, the village seems a cozy place. But secret jealousies crouch in the rafters of a dozen huts. Buried hatreds come alive at night, grow fur and fangs – no joke. Even the Christians know better than to leave nail clippings or the hair from their combs lying around where someone might pick them up.
But ah, the rooster! If he cares, he doesn’t show it. His eyes at midnight still sparkle with the light of noon.
Call then, bring the dawn! Sing, and I will say namu for you. Tell the truth.
He stretches out his neck, flapping his wings like a blacksmith’s helper pumping at the bellows. Kambu kaaru, kambu kambu kaaru! Wanjuburung, wanjabarang!*
Friend rooster, even if you knew this dawn would be your last, would you do anything differently? Let the first line of white streak the sky. Let feet feel for sandals, let pestles grope about for mortars. Let no one hear how, hidden in the rafters of the komo house, buried in jars under the floor, the secret generators are sputtering, thirsty for fuel.
Nothing is free in this world. For order and reason to prevail, everyone must give up some cherished thing: a flap of skin, perhaps. A favorite food. A fortnight’s worth of company with women. To every being, God has given the power of some gift.
The white band grows. A splash of red. The rooster crows as if his life depended on it.
* Mandinka onomatopoeia, lifted from Hunters and Crocodiles: Narratives of a Hunter’s Bard, by Bakari Kamara (edited and translated by Gordon Innes with Bakari Sibide, Paul Norbury Publications, 1990).
Komo is the pre-eminent secret society among the Mande people. Here, I have applied the term to its power objects as well.
This is my contribution to Ecotone wiki’s July 15 topic, Secret Places. Be sure to check out the others. At the end of her own entry, Pica notes that “the wiki has recently been vandalized by spammers; we’re trying to keep it up and running but it’s a bit of a battle.” So, see it while it lasts.