GREAT STORIES:A History Lesson
Yields Glimpse of Missing Past
November 7, 2004
We travel between the
villages on narrow, but serviceable roads that cut
across vast flatlands and fields of millet.
Occasionally, we pass old Toyota vans, crammed with
bodies, ferrying people between the villages. At ferry
crossings and entering villages, you see welcome signs
bearing a familiar red and white logo. Bon voyage from
Coke. American enterprise at work.
by Sarah J. Glover|
Chief Mohammaed alpha Silla,
67 (left), walks with Miami Herald columnist
Leonard Pitts through Yoyema Village, which is a
Mende Village in Sierra Leone, outside of
By the side of
the road, girls walk with produce and jugs balanced on
their heads and boys drive donkey carts. Goats cross the
road gingerly, scurrying out of the way at the sound of
an approaching vehicle.
This is smart. Our
driver, Nasser, has a lead foot. The landscape flies
When we pass through villages, people
always turn to watch us going by. In the village of
Karma, a boy named Rashid even runs alongside our
vehicle, pointing us to the river, where the women are
washing clothes and selling green pumpkins. He grins
with the sheer joy of exertion. We give him a few CFA,
the local currency, for his trouble.
It is near
sunset that we find ourselves in Namaro, a Songhay
village about 18 miles north of Boubon, where we are
granted an audience with the chief, Amirou Namaro. He
receives us sitting on his cot wearing an elaborate blue
robe. Besides the cot, the room is furnished with a
clock, a rug, a radio and a few chairs. Outside in the
compound, his wives are tending to children and
preparing the evening meal.
I ask what being
chief entails. Through Kedidia, Namaro launches into a
long recitation of his lineage, at least 14 generations
of chiefs. Given that I can only recount two generations
with any confidence, I am impressed and tell him so.
Namaro laughs and says something to Kedidia.
says they have to know it," she translates. "They know
their lineage all the way to the Askia."
would be Askia Mohammed, who took the throne of the
Songhay nation in 1493. In his 19-year reign, he built
one of the largest, wealthiest and most fearsome empires
of that day. "Before the white people came to Africa,"
says Namaro, "the Songhay used to be stronger, used to
have more power in this region. They'd go to other lands
and fight and make war. That was their job, to make war
. And then the white people came and they
destroyed all the traditions, the structure and the
power for them."