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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Zarma - Songhay culture: Hippopotamus hunt

Due to a dispute about copyrights, the original video (all four parts) is no longer available at YouTube. Excerpts of the movie can be viewed via two other sites:

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Baŋawi, Hippopotamus hunt (the story in short)
To hunt a baŋa, the baŋawi or bangawi in Zarma, is a dangerous adventure. An animal of several tons may attack the hunters. Therefore the hunters (sorko) built a big boat with thick sides that will resist such an attack. They use wood of the tokey or tokkay tree. Harpoons (harji) are constructed with a float made of a bundle of light stalks. To kill the hippo they use a spear (yaji or yagui) Preparations take a long time and include a possession ritual lasting for hours and devoted to Harakoy Dicko, deity of the Niger River and mother of the Tooru spirits. These are the nobles of the spirit world, the deities of nature. The possession ritual finishes with the Hauka spirits, the spirits of colonization or spirits of force.

After the first preparations, the final preparations for hunt or baŋawi starts. The sorko gather together on a small isle to settle there difference first and to protect themselves with magic power. Then they leave the isle, a flotilla of dug-outs follows the great pirogue to look for hippopotamuses. The small boats go into the marshes, where the hippo's hide at high tide, to surprise the animals. They manage to harpoon a big animal and to tie one of the harpoons to the great pirogue. With the yaji, the great spear, they try to hit the the lower half of the brainstem. It is a cruel fight for hours that is won by the sorko. Due to internal quarrel, the group set out for the next hunt not until April when the river is lower. The hippo's have left the marches and hide in the deep trenches in the middle of the river.

After their first success, it takes several months before the sorko start the next baŋawi. On 27 April the sorkey gather at Tambabaro and again a flotilla of eight dug-outs sails out together with the great pirogue. They succeed to harpoon a hippopotamus, a young animal, that is pulled onto a beach and killed. The hunt continues upriver to Tamoulés. The next day at Tibo they start the chase of a big male 'the bearded one' of Tamoulés. One of the sorko manage to harpoon this big animal. It charges the hunters and smashes one of the dug-outs, seven are left. The battle continuous with the great pirogue. Special preparations are made to protect themselves with magic. Without success. The hippo strikes first and and smashes the prow of the boat. It sinks and all have to abandon ship. The next day with the help of others they repair the great pirogue. Thereafter they continue their hunt.

After their failure, the damaged great pirogues is repaired and the sorko sail out again. In the search of the 'the bearded one', the big male hippopotamus, they encounter an ayu (manatee). The animal is harpooned and killed. On 2 May they succeed to find the big male hippo. The sorko attack it. Although the hippo is hit by several harpoons it manages to get away and hide in the marches. The men find a few days old beast they name Harikambe (water hand). It is entrusted to one of the men, who takes care of it. The others continue the pursuit the next day. They follow the 'the bearded one' to the rapids of Labbezenga. The battle begins once again in the marches near the rapids. Although the animal is hit many times, it succeeds to break loose again and to severely damaged the great pirogue. The sorko are left with a damaged great pirogue, a broken yaji (big spear) and a few harpoons. The have to accept their defeat.

Background information
These Excerpts are parts of Jean Rouch and Roger Rosfelder film titled "Bataille sur le Grand Fleuve" (literally Battle on the Big River) made in 1952. The film was shot on a mission of the French Institute of Black Africa (L' Institute Français d'Afrique Noire) near Ayorou, Niger, in 1950-1951. The length of the original film is 33 minutes.
About the film
The Sorko fishermen hunt hippopotamuses on the Niger river with harpoons. Before their departure, a ceremony is held to question the spirit of the river as to the success of the hunt, which results in the capture of two hippopotamuses : a woman possessed by the spirit of the river dances and the fishermen spray magic water on her to stoke up their own courage. One female hippopotamus is killed and a young one captured alive. But an old male, solitary and fierce, despite his numerous harpoon wounds, succeeds in escaping after damaging the hunters’ great dug-out canoe. [source: France Diplomatie].
More information
[1] Stoller, Paul (1997) Fusion of the worlds. An ethnography of possession among the Songhay of Niger. University of Chicago Press, 268 pages.
[2] Rouch, Jean (2003) Ciné-ethnography; edited and translated by Steven Feld.
[3] Jean Rouch and His Camera in the Heart of Africa. Film by Philo Bregstein. Preview
Fisherman: photo of fisherman throughing out his net. The sorko are an ethnic group of fishers, who are assumed to be descendants of Faran Make Boto. They are praise-singers to the spirits of the Songhay-Zarma world.

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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016