All’s Well that Ends Well, by Abbie Hantgan



The Kumpo is of disputed origin. He appears at festivals of various ethnicities; Bainounk, Jóola, and mixed events. In fact, in Bobo Dioulasso, I saw a very similar creature who would come out and smack people with his staff during funerals. A formidable being, here too, we see these death-like masks dancing with him, though everyone assured me that all the beings were completely benign.



I was even encouraged to pet the Kumpo! He doesn’t talk, rather the squeals, and apparently he expressed his appreciation. I suppose the reason that I was able to obtain such a close glimpse at the performers (via a ring-side seat) was that I was sporting an indigo hand-dyed and woven cotton blouse and skirt.  People assumed it was a traditional Bainounk or Jóola garment, when in fact, it is Dogon from Mali.



Naturally, these overlaps in tradition impact the lexicon as well.  The word for well, for example, is borrowed from the Mande languages Bamana and Mandinka into both Dogon and Jóola languages, [kɔlɔŋ] and [kɔlɔn] as [kɔ́rɔ́] and [ɛ-hɔlɔŋ] respectively.  Two relatively geographically isolated groups, separated physically by waters, sand dunes, and mountains, one wonders how these more than coincidental concurrences happened, especially given the otherwise vast differences found among the peoples’ lives and languages.

Abbie Hantgan