When JP had asked when we planned to get to the mask festival, I’d said « Oh…around 11 or so ». “No, no!” he told me “Show up at 10:30. I’ll be there and if everybody shows up on time, it will start earlier.” Luckily, I ignored him -not that I recommend this as a technique for building healthy marriages, but it does cut down on aggravation.
As you can guess, it didn't start anywhere near on time. We got to Oullo at 11am and JP’s field team wasn’t even there. The dance site was inhabited only by a few bored village kids, a couple of sad chickens pecking at dirt and a short American guy with a big camera. An academic interested by “Performance Art”. I was a little afraid for him. He looked like he needed a Starbuck’s Grande Latte Big 'ole Superchino, or whatever the heck they sell, plus maybe a copy of The
Our kids had quite a time, as news of their arrival in the village spread. Soon the Land Cruiser was surrounded by children. The girls retreated to the roof rack to escape the crush and get an overview. Until the masks showed up, we were the best entertainment in town.
When JP and his team finally arrived, it was nearly noon. The dance area was being sprinkled with water to help cut the dust. A couple of guys arrived pulling a big handcart piled high with benches from the school.
As all this went on, the mask dancers were to the west, in the forest getting sewn into their costumes. Once you are in it, you are stuck for the day. You can’t eat or drink until it comes off.
They arrived in procession at about 12:30, the griot musicians playing their drums and whistles. They paraded around the dance floor a few times. The masks were organized into groups: buffalo, antelope, beauty (designated by a woman), “The woman has no house” (which doesn’t look like a woman at all), Kalé (the clown mask that gets to mock all the others) and the tall “mosque” masks. There are many other types of masks, but they had performed the other two days of the event and weren’t there Saturday.
The dancers found spots in the shade to sit down and the griots tapped out another complicated rhythm. The antelope recognized their signal and two of them stood up. It became evident that one was a very experienced dancer and the other a neophyte. Often, one of the mask “handlers” would grab the younger mask by the shoulder, make him stop dancing and get him to watch more carefully what the older dancer was doing.
There was dust. Lots of dust. Which is good, kind of. That’s one of the functions of masks- to cleanse the earth of impurity. But at a festival, they don’t need to emphasize that function. Hence the water. But that water that had been poured on the ground before the event had evaporated in about five minutes. I thought of the other American woman that had planned to come along, but had backed out at the last minut because her asthma was acting up. How right she was. Due to the dust, I spent the whole time sucking on my inhaler so hard that it's amazing it didn't lodge in my throat. " US Citizen Dies in Freak Ventoline Mishap at Mask Festival" the headline would read.
And as she was so unwell yesterday, I checked her blood sugar, just to see if that old problem really was not a factor. She was somewhat high….
So, fun as this is, I have other, more pressing duties.
I’ll update tomorrow, for sure.