USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Malian’
Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying: Part Two”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She learned this Bambara folk-saying from her father, who in turned learned it from his mother. It is used more frequently by older generations than the other folk-saying she shared, “a dgelly mandi.” Her Malian grandmother, who she described as “critical and grumpy, kind of like how you would imagine a village’s token crazy grandma,” uses the saying all the time to describe people she doesn’t approve of, especially in reference to her nephews’ and grandsons’ girlfriends. Within the informant’s family, although the saying is intended for cautionary purposes, her grandmother’s liberal use of it has given it more of a comedic effect; she said most of her family members now groan, laugh, or roll their eyes and say, “Not again!” when her grandmother recites the phrase.

 

            “A ka fanga bê bin kênê djeni” is Bambara, too, which in English means, “She could burn fresh grass,” and, you know, fresh grass doesn’t burn. So, basically, it’s meant to say “She’s too difficult to deal with” or “She’s impossible.”  

 

            Particularly interesting is that both Malian sayings offered by the informant are structured through the feminine pronoun, although it can be used to reference both genders. The most likely hypothesis, then, is that men in the village first used it to describe women, although perhaps the saying was authored by a jealous wife or frustrated mother. Like “A dgelly mandi,” this folk saying, too, could be easily used among town gossips or among close friends and family.

             The emphasis the informant’s father placed on visualizing Malian proverbs is quite interesting in this case; it is nearly impossible to read with translated saying without imagining a woman walking by a plot of green grass and having it immediately burst into flames. This adds a layer of spirituality and mystique because then the saying suggests that this woman, or person, has a sort of (evil) power that others do not possess. Although the saying is not taken literally, it is not difficult to imagine that it may have first arisen from a spiritual or magical belief.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She heard the folk-saying as she was growing up, and she mentioned her father uses it quite often; it is a common saying both in her family and among Malians collectively. However, she did state that older generations often say it to younger folk as a caution or warning. After speaking more with her father, the informant also learned that African, and especially Malian, proverbs and sayings are typically very visual and as she said, “paint a picture about the person.” Indeed, the detail in imagery is evident in both sayings collected from the informant.

 

            “A dgelly mandi” is an expression in Bambara that literally translates to “her blood is not good,”  but basically it means “there’s something I don’t like about him/her” or “that person rubs me the wrong way.” You know how some people just have faces that aren’t nice-people faces? Not that they can’t be good looking, just that they look shady, or that something doesn’t seem right about them. Well that’s what that means. My dad says it as a warning sometimes when talking to his business partners about people that he’s met with, and, oh my god, you should hear my grandma in Mali. She is one of the biggest gossipers in our hometown and this is definitely a phrase that gossipers use. Most of the time they’re women, sometimes older women say it to younger girls, but even, like, high school girls might say it to each other when they’re ragging on a boy or don’t think he’s a good guy.

 

            It is a struggle to find an English equivalent to “a dgelly mandi” because there is no phrase quite as succinct or punchy. The folk-saying is very much spiritual in nature in the sense that there is an intangible quality―and energy, perhaps―that exudes negativity from the individual. Logic and reason don’t find a place in this folk-saying, as it relies more on intuitive feeling. It seems natural, then to think that perhaps Malians place significant importance on first impressions; looking or coming off negatively may be a difficult hurdle to overcome if Malians have even developed a saying for it. It is interesting to consider whether people who are deemed “a dgelly mandi” have a more difficult time creating friendships or relationships, how subjective the use of the phrase is. For instance, are there certain physical characteristics that are more likely to look “a dgelly mandi” (for instance, unusually dark eyes or upturned, sneer-like lips)? Because the informant stated that the phrase is often thrown around gossip circles, it would be curious to examine whether one person’s use of the phrase affects another’s perception of the individual in question, or whether it is brushed off as merely an opinion. In the case that older folk are saying it to younger generations for cautionary purposes, however, it is likely given much more gravity than amongst similarly-aged gossipers.

             The fact that the literal translation is structured in the feminine form could suggest a link between blood and the female through the menstrual cycle. Perhaps the “not good blood” in the translation originally referred to child-birthing difficulties or miscarriages that had negatively branded women in the neighborhood.  

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