Ancient Man Builds an Ancient Road. Living Samogho History

This is a story that is worth re-telling.

I was 75 Km South East of that Ancient Road Story…. with an Ancient Man, with a story.

The “facts”, as told to me, may or may not be accurate. It does not matter to me. I am simply sharing the story as it was told to me. The conversation touched on some history, but the beauty is the old man himself, though the story, as told to me, is worth repeating.

Today I took (December 6 2013) a great picture of an ancient Samogho man, first with my smartphone, then a longer pose with my eyes.

I was in this very simple village, one of the poorest and least developed villages I have ever been to in Mali. They have nothing. With the help of IDES (Interntional Disaster Emergency Services) we are helping this villages women develop drip irrigated gardens. They have never gardened before, and walk five kilometers to a larger village on a bush road, to buy the alarmingly few vegetables they eat. Malnutrition lives here every day.

We were to meet with the some Samogho Duungooma women and villages leaders about this community development work.

IMG_20131206_112009_1We arrived in an almost empty village. It was the strangest thing. It was a ghost town. We actualy drove through and past all the huts and on the other side of the village we asked a lady where the Ouattera’s lived. She gave us directions to the exact mud hut, and we stopped in the middle of an empty scattered collection of huts. Personally, I can not even call this a village.

There was no one around, not even any kids. But as we got off the motos, an old man emerged from the door of a mud hut.  He could still walk, but slowly, and he had to take his good old time to place each step carefully. Then the Ancient man feebly sat down in the doorway, and greeted us.

Some younger men, and the chief of the women eventually showed up as well. We learned that Yakouba Ouattera (Water-ah) is his name.

In French, I asked the young man with me to ask the ancient Samogho man how old he is. My friend translated that request to the Samogho young men in Bambara, and then they asked the Ancient Man my question in Samogho. We had three languages going here.

With is hand on his forehead and staring off in space Yakouba Ouattera thought for a while, we waited silently for the response.

Then matter of factly he said, “I don’t know how old I am.”

The young men said he is over 100. Maybe, but I doubt it.

IMG_20131206_112100A few minutes later the “Ancient Man” added,

“My birth was registered in some old French colonial records, and that was 86 years ago. However, back then they did not requester children until they were certain they would live, and many kids in the bush were never registered in this book until the family moved into the village. So some kids were 8 or 10 years old already when they were registered. So I am at least 88 years old, but possibly closer to 98 yrs I think.”

If you have been around Africa, where the average life is less then 50 yrs old. You would understand why people this old are so rare to see.

Yakouba then told a short story about when he was young, he said he was part of the forced labor crews when the French forced villagers to build the Sikasso highway.

“I remember having to carry timbers on my head for building the bridges. We were forced to do the work by the French.”,  he said.

IMG_20131206_113107

While still staring off in the distance, he matter of factually  added,

“It was a very difficult time in life. We worked hard because the timbers were heavy,  and if we did not work we would have been beaten.”

He had no idea how riveting his life narrative is. Just the few phrases he shared with us.

Frankly, I have no idea when slavery and forced labor ended in this former French colonial region. However, I do know the last place to fall to the French was Sikasso. In 1898.   The Mamalon Hill became the  center of Sikasso, and is to this day,. That hill was where King Tieba Traoré lived, giving him a great vantage point over the whole area. Today there is a water tower there.

Tieba  Traoré built Meters thick and meters tall fortifying mud walls called “The Tata”,  to protect the small city from the French, and Dioula (Jula or Dyula), with whom they were having a tribal war.  Remnants of the Tata walls can still be seen in sections of Sikasso today, though most of the wall  has long since deteriorated and gone. The French had a hard battle to gain control of the Sikasso region. They local people of Sikasso withstood a long seige by the Frnech from 1887 to 1888.

After his death, King Tieba Traoré  was succeed by his brother, Babemba Traoré,  and finally in 1898  Sikasso region fell to the French.  Babemba Traoré committed suicide, rather than surrender. There is a Bambara proverb that says,  “Death is preferable to shame.”.

Truth be known, right now, after meeting this man, I really don’t care about the paper dates and facts. Because I have a historical image, a historical icon, a living breathing history sitting in front of me. The history is alive in him, the story is told by his lips, and that makes this the most beautiful history lesson ever.

The older I get, the more I want to hear old peoples stories. I suppose this will continue to be the case, until I too get old, and like Yakouba Ouattera, there is no old people left to hear stories from, so we are stuck with our own senile, babbling voice.

I was able to meet an “Ancient Man” who built a 400 km  “Ancient Road” carrying timbers on his head, and placing cobblestones with his very own hands.  

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