One of the goals of our mission to Guinea this past summer was to break ground and build a perimeter around the property purchased through WACAI’s long term capital campaign, the Guinea Land Project for the future home of their cultural arts center. We were fortunate to have been able to buy land located within the city limits of Conakry, Guinea’s capital that was affordable because it is on the brink of development. The location of this property is not only auspicious because of its proximity to a beautiful and expansive, sandy beach front, but because visiting this agricultural area, taking long walks from the busy road to the site in a natural setting, and communing with the local people who live close to this land also provided our family with a sense of calm and serenity, especially when compared to the hustle and bustle of urban Conakry just a relatively short taxi ride away. Experiencing the juxtaposition between village life full of nature, open space, refreshing ocean breezes and city life equipped with the conveniences of running water, internet service, and air conditioning made it plain that we were fortunate to reside in the best of both worlds.
One of the most fascinating aspects of visiting this area was to observe how closing the inhabitants relied on the land to provide a means for making a living and how resourceful they are. Our walks on the one-track foot path meandering through the marshes on the edge of sweeping rice fields opens up into a sandy expanse where the only mode of transportation is by foot or motorcycle, including “moto-taxis” can carry up to two passengers at a time. The path to the beach routed all traffic through a small stand of palm trees where a makeshift palm wine café had sprouted and became a natural hub for social interaction and cottage industry. It was there that we witnessed the tenacious talent of Bouba, a Susu, Sierra Leonean transplant who harvested palm wine and “Mange Guine” a village elder who refined salt, extracted palm oil, and smoked fish. The skillful way in which the two of them worked on the land was quite astounding and could certainly be described as a craft and possibly even an artform! Explaining their process is one thing but describing the simplistic beauty of their flow could not be adequately captured in words! In order to portray an accurate depiction of this view of village life one would actually need to see it for themselves which is one reason why WACAI created the “CKY Corner” Series and choose “Village Life” as one of four over arching themes. Please check out these wonderful video clips on FB and IG and let us know what you think or ask a question in the comments and if these clips move you I anyway please like them and share them with your networks!
Farming rice is another significant way that the villagers who live in the area rely upon and work on the land. It is pretty astounding that to this day farming in Guinea is done by hand with very simple agricultural tools. This is particularly striking when considering the expanse of the land that is cultivated and in the case of the area that surrounds the site where WACAI has recently broke ground, rice fields extend into the horizon as far as the eye can see. Living close to the land and only using simplistic technology makes farming in Guinea much more community oriented than the agricultural model that we primarily use here in the United States. Instead of using heavy equipment and motorized machinery Guinean farmers draw upon their families and other community members to help them get the job done. There is a tradition of kin folk who live in outlying areas to return to their family’s natal village at the beginning of the rice season to help tackle the daunting task of clearing and tilling the land and planting the seeds that will eventually become the centerpiece of Guinean cuisine. In the tradition of the Malinke ethnic group the entire village comes out to support the task of tilling the land by hand. Drummers gather on the periphery of the plot to play traditional farming rhythms like Kassa or Konkoba. They are accompanied by old men, women, and children who sing, clap, or play traditional metal bells that are deftly struck in a rhythmic pattern to help raise the energy of the farmers who use friendly competition to show their strength and endurance while working together on a common goal. Susu people have similar traditions which include gathering together with music and dance to invigorate the farmers and honor this essential and venerable crop that is so elevated throughout all four geographic regions of Guinea. Rice is, in fact, so crucial to the eating Guinean patterns that Alseny often says that even if he has ingested food all day long, but not had a meal with rice and sauce he has not eaten at all!
In our society which is dominated by technological advances it is becoming increasingly commonplace to become disconnected from the natural world and removed from the roots of living on the land, working with natural cycles, and rallying together as a community. WACAI believes that these day-to-day traditions featured in the “Village Life” segment of “CKY Corner” are not only fascinating, but relevant because they fundamentally shape culture.
To get a window into some aspects of village life check out our video clips on FB West African Cultural Arts Institute and IG @WacaiOregon. New blogs will be posted every Tuesday and social media posts will go out every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday around 7 pm through March 3rd.