Friday, June 12, 2009

The Assassination of James Brown

Straight-up – being the one non-Bambara tribesman in Sanadougou and being constantly watched and gossiped about and petted and accosted for my bicycle and my underwear all day, every day, 7 days a week is emotionally and spiritually exhausting. And it is even more frustrating and damaging to one’s sense of self-worth when I go walk over for a friendly chat with the dude for whom I just built 3 brand new, cement nyegens complete with soak pits and feeling all bright and optimistic and accomplished and he screams at me for being a “nasty, greedy Tubabu” because I won’t give him U.S. A.I.D.-financed cement to line his entire house and I walk home flustered and fed up and not a single person in this entire town can relate.

But who needs people when James Brown and Snoop Doggy Dogg are waiting at home to play with me? Even on days when my homologue thinks I’m useless and my jatigi thinks I’m lazy and the entire village thinks I’m a stingy bastard, my doggy and kitty think I’m the best person in the whole wide world and Snoop rolls over so we can play the “kick me in the face” game and James climbs up my shoulder and rolls into a huggable, purry furball and at least some creatures on this planet appreciate my existence. And everything is alright.

So the other night I was sleeping in my tent in the papaya patch when I was woken by a deafening BOOM as though a car had backfired just outside my garden. Though I didn’t think anything of it and rolled back to sleep.

The next morning I couldn’t find Jamesy… I went over to my jatigi’s house – James had recently been spending nights with their ladycat – but he wasn’t there either. I was told to go to the house of Seydou Cafa – the night watchman at the clinic across the street. Maybe he knew where James was...

So I stormed in demanding answers when I am greeted by my kitty James – he was hanging from Seydou’s gwa with his head chopped off, skinned to dry for that evening’s sauce. The logic of what had happened that night became all too apparent:

1. I am hungry. (Given)
2. Look… a Cat! (Given)
3. BOOM! (Chain Rule 1, 2)

I went ballistic.

“What’s the big deal?” Seydou asked, “It’s just a cat.”

“That’s not just a cat – that’s my cat you killed!!! You stole my cat and you can’t give it back!!! So now you have to pay up.”

“Whatever – I’m sorry. It will not happen again, insh’allah.”

“No, that’s not going to cut it. You just killed an expensive cat. I vaccinated and treated that cat, and it cost 5,000 CFA. I’ll give you a choice; either you pay me 5,000 francs right now, and while you’re at it give me a goat for good measure so I can kill one of your animals and eat it too – or else I’m going to explain to the Commandant that you’re a lunatic who hunts other people’s livestock with a shotgun on the clinic grounds in a crowded neighborhood 80 meters from where I sleep and 100 meters from where the Commandant and his wife and his children sleep.”

Unlike litigious Americans such as yours truly, Bambaras shy from using the official legal system and instead use their own traditional form of settling grievances. There is kind of an adversarial trial before the dugutigi (the village chief) who resolves both parties’ claims. This was actually a big deal; in an agricultural society, livestock theft is one of the most serious crimes which one can commit. If a Bambara steals another Bambara’s cow or sheep, the thief is usually pressured by his elders to compensate the victim in currency or in kind.

Though unbeknownst to me at the time, even in the extralegal Bambara trial using informal laws and informal procedures, the plaintiff is generally expected to employ an extralegal lawyer. Usually people have the eldest male of each respective adversary’s family do all the negotiating – and so I should have delegated responsibility to my jatigi Karitie Sanogo. For yours truly – former Mock Trial lawyer, material witness for a real-life courtroom disposition and citizen of the U.S. of A. where 23-year-olds are just as full members of society as their real fathers – it never occurred to me that I should employ someone else to redress my own grievances. Thus by stepping into the dugutigi’s gwa to act as my own counsel, I apparently disrupted the gerontocratic social order and already had one strike going against me.

Nevertheless, I put forward an argument based on what I felt was incontrovertible logic:

1. Individuals are granted by their Creator a natural right to Property. (Bourgeois Capitalism)
2. “To steal” is to take another person’s Property without their consent. (Definition)
3. If an Individual steals another Individual’s Property, the Thief must pay the Victim in order to re-establish the State of Nature. (Bourgeois Capitalism)
4. I had a Cat. (Given)
5. My Cat cost 5,000 francs. (Given)
6. I never told anyone that they had permission to take my Cat. (Given)
7. Seydou killed my Cat and his wife is preparing it for dinner. (Given)
8. Therefore, Seydou stole my Cat (Chain Rule [1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7])
9. Therefore, Seydou must give me 5,000 francs. (Chain Rule, Bourgeois Justice [3, 5, 8])
10. And a goat. (Revenge)

The dugutigi agreed wholeheartedly with my proposition. However, Seydou had a right to defend himself.

1. I am the Night Watchman at the Clinic. (Given)
2. The Night Watchman is equipped with a Shotgun in order to protect the Clinic. (Given)
3. Therefore, it is my solemn duty to protect the Clinic as well as myself with my Shotgun.
(Chain Rule [1,2])
4. Evil Sorcerers exist, and they wish to do us harm. (Incontrovertible Fact)
5. Evil Sorcerers can take the form of Cats. (Incontrovertible Fact)
6. While guarding the Clinic last night, I saw a Cat. (Given)
7. Therefore, the Cat which I saw could have been an Evil Sorcerer in disguise.(Chain Rule [4, 5, 6])
8. Therefore, there is no way that I could have known that that Cat was not an Evil Sorcerer. (The Law of Epistemological Positivism [6, 7])
9. Therefore, it was my solemn duty to shoot that Cat with my Shotgun in order to protect the Clinic from Evil Sorcerers. (Chain Rule [1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8])

The dugutigi gave much credence to Seydou’s defense. “He’s got a good point there, Madu – what if your cat was a sorcerer?”

“NO!!!!! I know for a fact that my cat could not cast magic spells. If Seydou believes thinks that he should shoot every single kitten that walks his way because it might be a sorcerer, then he is delusional and insane and he should not have a job which entails holding a shotgun at a health clinic!!! Witches and wizards are not real and they cannot be valid reasons for slaughtering other people’s animals!!! You know what? Maybe Seydou’s cow is a sorcerer!!!! I should kill his cow!!! And maybe his goats and his sheep are all sorcerers too!!! If Seydou’s defense is valid, then I should be able to shoot all of his animals and eat them to protect myself from evil spells!!!!

Unfortunately for my case, the dugutigi also believes in witches and wizards – hence he let Seydou’s defense stand.

“The night watchman had good reason to believe that his very life could have been in danger of black magic, he shot your cat out of sincere self-defense. So Seydou must not give you a goat to slaughter as you demand… However, since you now surely want a new cat and you want to vaccinate it too, Seydou must give you 5,000 francs to cover the cost of cat medicine.”

But the important issue to me wasn’t the money; I wanted Seydou to pay 5,000 francs merely to make his reckless behavior really, really expensive and hopefully to deter his assassination of future cats. What mattered to me is that now my life in the peaceful gardens of Xanadu is lacking a huggable, squeezable furball to curl up next to my pillow and purr me to sleep.

Though this tragedy concludes with a happy ending of rebirth and renewal; within hours of this fiasco, in such an insular village where my nail-clipping habits are considered juicy gossip, every man, woman and child in Sanadougou knew about the untimely assassination of my feline friend who would so often follow me and climb up on my shoulder to accompany me around the hood. James Brown was a Sanadougou celebrity in his own right, and his presence was immediately missed. And by the afternoon the community poured out in sympathy and dozens of people offered me brand new kittens to offset my loss.

I accepted one baby kitten, and his name his James Brown II.


Ezra said...

My condolences on the assassination of James Brown. I always enjoyed reading about James on your blog. I will remember him every time you discuss your soak pit. In the tradition of calling port-o-potties in the US by a first name, John, you should call soak pits James's in his honor, after his inspirational urination.

Also, though this does not fit here in particular, I've been meaning post for a while, so I might as well do so here. I wanted you to know: Ilook forward to reading your blog every so often. It's inspirational to realize that a liberal arts education really is an education, and that it has granted you the power of moral reasoning (poopopticon, crisis in Xanadu, ...?) and understanding (crisis in xanadu, ...?). Also, you are a great writer, and it is a pleasure to read your words from time to time.

I hope all is well. Also, perhaps I will stop over in Mali at some point? My brother is leaving for peace corps in Mauritania in under a week, so perhaps when I visit him I can hop over the border (its that easy, right?)


Katherine said...

I'm so sorry to hear about James -- I hope that JB II will provide you with as much comfort, though JB I will surely be missed.