A memorable last service, by Alexander Cobbinah

On Saturday the 2 April three of our London team members (myself, Miriam Weidl and Rachel Watson) had the honour of assisting a very special occasion – special both for personal reasons as well as concerning our project related activities. That event was the anniversary of Edouard Bacote Sagna’s funeral (messe anniversaire in French, ëriibeŋ in Gubëeher and bucigo in Joola Banjaland Kujireray). Edouard Sagna, who had very suddenly passed away in April 2015, is grieved by his many children and all of Djibonker and beyond, where he was engaged in numerous political, economic and social activities beneficial for the whole village.


He was also the first point of contact for me in 2009 when I first came to Djibonker to do research for my doctoral dissertation, and has not only welcomed me into his house and family but also assisted and supported me in his research as he has opened doors and worked miracles for all previous and current team members who have since come to research and spend part of their lives in Casamance. Edouard was deeply interested in the local culture and languages and the research projects and has participated in many of our research related activities by organising and coordinating events and being founder and part of a dictionary committee for Baïnounk Gubëeher.

His great personality and his wide popularity was reflected by the enormous numbers of family members and guests who came from all parts of Casamance and Senegal to remember him. Funny and serious episodes were reminisced and recounted in all languages of Casamance such as Bayot, Portuguese Creole, French, Wolof, and all the Joola languages between Diembereng and Diouloulou. This showed us once again how deeply the communities living in Casamance are intertwined through family ties and social bonds. On Saturday the main day of the ceremony the closer (!) circle of about 50 members of the family and friends who had stayed at the family house in Djibonker preparing the festivities, was joined by hundreds of guests pouring in by the busloads in their Sunday’s best. After having attended a church service dedicated to Edouard Sagna and a visit of his grave, the crowd moved to the house where an army of cooks prepared delicious food for everyone, and palm wine and other drinks were served throughout the day, while people sat and chatted.

As a contribution to Edouard’s memory from the part of the Crossroads project Mia and Alex chose images and video-footage and cut it into a half hour memorial film, bringing Edouard Sagna briefly back to life projected onto a white bedsheet attached to the side wall of the house he built and in which he used to live. Once more he was joking, dancing and pouring out words of wisdom in a manner deeply familiar to everyone who knew him, making them laugh and cry at the same time. But now it was time to let go of him as the anniversary of his funeral marks the end of the grieving period,  – to join the ancestors in the world beyond or to proceed to some form of Christian afterlife depending on what one prefers to believe. The personal belongings of the deceased are distributed among the family and his room becomes available again for occupation. He will be fondly remembered by his family and his friends  (and most certainly remembered by those foolish enough to make themselves his enemies). They have contributed all their workforce and resources to give their father, uncle, friend a dignified farewell he couldn’t have been more proud of.


Edouard Sagna and his late wife Martine Biagui in 2010

Text and photos by Alexander Cobbinah


Maxime – languaging without boundaries, by Miriam Weidl

Living and working with people for whom it is a norm rather than a curiosity to speak more than three languages in everyday conversations is not only fascinating but also sharpens one’s mind. Aware of the number of languages present, the high pace of switches between them, the normality of the mixing and knowledge of at least some of the languages brought me to a point where a mixed use of “codes” often constitutes an adequate way of speaking for myself. Clearly influenced by the people of the villages of Djibonker and Brin, Casamance, I unconsciously started to mix German with other languages without noticing when talking to my family on the phone, who commented on this and raised my awareness of it. Now having been in Senegal for more than two months I often have to remind my linguist’s brain not to forget to think about how people use their linguistic repertoires instead of just accepting mixing and the flow that comes with it.

Asking one of my most frequent questions – what language did you use and why? – which I can now express in different languages and mixtures of them, depending on whom I am talking to in which context, I am definitely expecting an answer, even if it is that the person I’m asking says that he or she does not know. Then one day, our team had the pleasure of being introduced to Maxime Sagna who is, to our knowledge, the only deaf person in the village of Djibonker, and suddenly this highly significant question for my research became impossible to ask.

Maxime must now be around 16 years old and came to the village nearly five years ago from Ziguinchor, where he grew up. He did not get the chance to receive any formal education and has not learned any recognised sign language but takes part in communication whenever he has a chance, living an active, inquisitive and engaged life.


Getting to know each other, I’ve tried many different ways to talk about Maxime’s language use to him, and also asked people conversing with him, receiving puzzled looks and answers like “Maxime does not speak” or “He speaks with his hands, it is not a language”. It is unnecessary to mention that my follow-up questions (and me somehow hoping to hear “the name of a language”) confused the discussion about his language use in various ways.

Yet, Maxime is vividly talking all day long and absolutely proficient to make himself clear in a conversation, expressing what he wants to say, explaining even difficult topics, living up to his responsibilities, negotiation work and money issues or just fooling around with his friends. Not only is he able to speak to everyone in the village, also everybody seemingly knows how to communicate with him. Highly interested in what exactly is going on, but unable to ask the question – what language do you use? – Andrés Carvajal, a documentary film-maker and visual anthropologist, and I decided to accompany Maxime in his daily activities, recording a short documentary since that seemed to be the only way to capture as much of the sociolinguistic situations as possible.

The time we spent together opened our eyes and also made us think more and gain a progressive understanding of the complexity of linguistic repertoires and multilingualism.


Carvajal, Andrés & Miriam Weidl (2016) Maxime – languaging without boundaries. Short film. In: Voices from around the world. Special issue on multilingualism in the Global South. Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne.

Big thanks to our friend Maxime and everybody who participated in the documentary. In memory of Maxime’s grandfather Pierre Manga, who succumbed to his severe illness in March 2016.