Felwine Sarr

Kirina and the Promise of a New Dawn

Kirina is a poetic narrative on the genesis of a new world. Serge Aimé Coulibaly has taken metaphors for the human condition found in the mythical story of the Battle of Kirina and turned them into a choreography in which he invites us to reflect. While unfolding this story from the collective memory of West Africa, he makes us think about movements, absurdity, the feeling of abandonment, the search for meaning and the promise of new horizons.

Kirina was the place where Sundiata Keita defeated the armies of Soumaoro Kanté and became the Mansa (or ‘emperor’) of Mali. Soumaoro Kanté, King of Sosso, had already ruled the oppressed Mandinka people with an iron fist for far too long. Sundiata, the son of Sogolon, was born lame, but decided to bring an end to this arbitrary rule. When he returned from exile in Mema, he formed a coalition with the various kingdoms of Sibi and threw down a challenge to Soumaoro Kanté. The final battle took place on the plain of Kirina in 1235. Sundiata wounded Soumaoro Kanté with the spur of a white cock. Kanté fled and disappeared into the mountains of Koulikoro pursued by Sundiata Keita. Thanks to this victory, Sundiata Keita was recognised as the Mansa of Mali by the allied kings. This marks the beginning of the Malian Empire, which was to dominate West Africa for several centuries. Tales of this mythical battle were sung by the griot poets of the Mandé people. At times of difficulty it is relived in the dreams of West Africans, inspires them to be courageous and reminds them that in this place there was a readiness to fight, and that every setback can be overcome.

Kirina is a flourishing and sweltering chaotic world, and a man lives there who is half buffalo and half human, looking for his shape after a difficult beginning. From the earliest days in the half-shadow of his place of birth he has sought breath and harmony. But in order to be able to throw off his shapelessness, he will have to undertake a journey of initiation. Aimlessness and fear will be his travelling companions. He will encounter peoples who have been set in motion by world history.

Stamping footsteps. The steps of the many people who are trying to make a way for themselves. The arhythmical cadence of a mass of people starting to move. A people who are leaving, heading for new horizons, driven onward and destined for endlessness.

The population of the world has been forever reordered. The promise of a new dawn. The blood that flows over the earth. Migration is as old as mankind itself. It has to live in the hearts of those who are leaving, but also in the bodies of those who open up the routes.

Sundiata is lame. He drags himself along on hands and knees. By the age of seven he is still not able to walk. Sogolon, his mother and the king’s second wife, is mocked by the ladies of the court. They call her Kédjou, the ugly, because of her hump. Her son drags himself along, while the son of the king’s first wife runs, jumps and picks baobab leaves for his mother. Sassouma Bérété, the first wife of King Naré Maghan, hopes that her son Dankaran Touman will inherit the royal throne, despite the fact that the seers have predicted a great future for Sogolon’s lame son as the saviour of Mandé. As a child, Sundiata escaped the bloodbath carried out by the eleven princes on the orders of Soumaoro Kanté. Sundiata’s lameness was his salvation. It meant he appeared not to present any danger.

One morning, having been humiliated by Sassouma Bérété, whom she had asked to pick baobab leaves, Sogolon took it out on her son and called him a good-for-nothing. On that day Sundiata decided he would walk. ‘Mother, do you want baobab leaves or the whole baobab?’ Sogolon replied: ‘I want the whole baobab.’ Sundiata asked Balla Fasseké, a griot poet and his companion, to go to his father’s smith and order a heavy iron crutch.

Using his sturdy arms, Sundiata planted the crutch in a vertical position and pulled himself up on it. The crutch bent under the strain of his muscles. He asked for another, and yet another, seven in all, which all bent under the weight and strength of his powerful arms. Balla Fasseké continued to encourage him and invoked the spirit of his father, Naré Maghan. ‘Roar, lion, man with two names, roar Mari-Diata, Sogolon-Diata, so that the jungle knows it has a master.’ Sundiata lifted himself up for his father’s spirit and pulled himself off the ground. He stood up and walked. His first steps were giant steps. He went into the forest, pulled a young baobab out of the ground and threw it at his mother’s feet. ‘Mother, you can pick as many baobab leaves as you want and from now on it will be to your door that the women of Niani will come for their supplies.’

The abandonment felt by the peoples of Mandé is made into a dance of the spirits that comes from deep within the body and defies gravity. It is our world that is wandering around looking for meaning. Off-beat rhythms, disoriented upheavals, thundering tremors, raging seas. Torment adrift, no harbour in sight.

The sacrifice is like seeds. Life pares itself. It harms itself and sows the best of itself in order to recover. To grow, you have to be able to give of yourself. You can only continue living if you are prepared to let what death extinguishes go out and to release yourself from everything that is by nature mortal.

A struggle is a divine judgement. People are freed from their yokes. Close demons are fought and driven out. Dormant energies are awakened and new force fields arise. With courage in the heart. Taking up the struggle. Not giving up, not running away, not becoming paralysed.

An Gnewa, forward!!!

The master of words addresses the warriors. They must distinguish the impossible from the extraordinary and bring it to a favourable conclusion. His masterful words fill the listeners’ hearts with courage.They are intended for the men and women of tomorrow. What will they have done with what now hangs over them like a shadow? The dark clouds of the desperation of the world, the xenophobia, the inhumanity, the inhospitableness, the chilling of hearts, the darkening. The eyes turned away from beauty. Concealed beneath a thick veil. Peoples worship their demons and they look back at them without batting an eyelid.

We have to go out onto the plain again and resume the struggle.

And suddenly there is joy. Held back, driven out, suppressed for too long. It bursts out in pirouettes, clapping hands, hoorahs, cheering and a thousand splendours.

The march is set in motion again. Bodies take the reins. The journey starts from Ceuta and Meelilla, Agadez, Goa, Baghdad, Seville, Lisbon and Shanghai. It gathers momentum, finds its breath and rhythm. It redraws the routes, broadens the space, shifts rivers, irrigates the plains, restarts the world. It forms a loop, a circle, a spiral. An eternal movement, indefatigable bearer of what yesterday ‘was’ and what tomorrow ‘will be’.

And there is the new morning already.

At the river mouth, in the light that plays in the swirling water.