The Dankun Network

The more I venture myself into the world of donsoya, the more I am convinced that I could only study it by becoming part of it. Going through all the different stages of initiation and apprenticeship is revealing many interesting things. One of the most striking was to discover how complicated it is for hunters to make official any step in the life of a new member. A seniority hierarchy is observed very carefully, and there are lots of green lights to receive before making any move. If agreement lacks, then the outcome of sacrifices at the dankun, our bush sanctuary at the split of two paths, will be negative.

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To start from, I discovered there is a hunter in Karankasso who is against my entering the association. He was a student of Adama Traoré as well, but the reasons of his being against me is not very clear. Whether it is the fact that I am European, or that he believes that I cannot seriously engage in this thing, or some simple form of jealousy I cannot know, at this stage. While I hope he won’t use black magic against me (but I’m preparing the right counter-measures), for sure he has a way to slow my work down, exploiting precisely the need for agreement I mentioned above.
After the woroci, the ritual I underwent in Karankasso to become a donso, I had to go through another sacrifice, called borodon, to sanction my entrance in the court of Adama Sogosi Traoré’s students. With this ritual Adama would ask the dankun and the spirits of deceased hunters of the past if I can become his apprentice, and at the same time introduce me to his students. He called them from many villages around, Karankasso, Samogogwan, Kariya, Nyale, Sadina. The simple fact of deciding the day for the ritual was a real pain. I spent a whole day driving around narrow paths between millet and corn fields, to visit people and decide something in Europe I would have solved in a few phone calls. Now, the way the hunter that is against me, we can call him for example Togo-Siaka, tried to sabotage me is precisely by deserting meetings where his opinion was required to decide the date for the ritual. Old Adama, who is very smart at playing this role game, didn’t impose his authority setting a day from above, but let his three most experienced students from Karankasso come to an agreement, forcing Togo-Siaka to show his hand.
Finally today was the day of the borodon. I brought to Adama’s compound in Nyawali a sack of 25 kg of rice to feed the hunters, two red cocks and two hens, many kola nuts and some fonio. I was not allowed to film the ritual this time, guess who advised against it. But in retrospect it was better like this, I experienced what was to follow more fully. Adama’s junior brother, Lacole, was the master of ceremonies, with the assistance of Karankasso’s donsoba Go-Fo Traoré. Long story short, my hens and cocks started to die the wrong way, on the side, showing that something was wrong. Lacole called me aside and made me reflect on my relationship with my parents, are they aware of what I am doing, do they agree with it? He also asked about the honesty of my purposes. I started to doubt of everything. Maybe I only care about career, making a nice film and write a book, maybe this cannot be part of donsoya. Maybe I’m just being selfish and my intentions are not true and pure in any way, but I am using these people for my PhD. Dust, sun, sweat. Blood spills on the shotguns’ stocks. Suffocated cries and feathers, birds’ bodies bouncing around. What am I doing here, and all the hunters looking at me with a worried expression. In the end they went to call Adama, he got another hen for me. He said that it should show if there is something wrong with me or with the hosting party. This hen again died the wrong way, on the side, but turned its back to Adama and his brother. They started to talk, and determined the thing that was wrong was a recent disagreement between them for the sale of some oxen. Adama got another hen, a very small one, and this one died perfectly lying on its back, as if something were keeping it in that position. I was sitting under a tree nearby, thinking what direction would my research take at this point. How can it be that a hen determines your fate? I came there thinking it would just be a formality, I confess, and I was given a big lesson. Only by being myself involved I could understand what these sacrifices are about. They have a strong emotional impact, if they are to decide your immediate future. First I was just nervous and wanted to get rid of it, then I was shaken, insecure and my voice was trembling, finally I felt so relieved and hugged all the hunters as my brothers. It reminds of How to Do Things with Stones, a chapter in Michael Jackson’s Paths Towards a Clearing, where he approaches Kuranko divination as a husband worried for his wife’s pregnancy. Secondarily, talking to hunters I once more realise how these sacrifices are thought to reveal relationships between the people present, for the dankun is believed capable of showing disagreement, dishonesty or treachery. Once again the importance of relationships between hunters, how much of this. It determines everything, bad luck while hunting or accidents.
I will come to visit Adama in Nyawali again, and he will take me to meet his family in Samogogwan, his mother who is still alive, his brothers and sisters and uncles. He asked about my parents, he told me he’d like to visit my father if he gets the means to do it, and bring him a hunter’s suit. I realised that my being European here means I’m also anomalous because I miss all the kinship network this people have. Adama visited all his student’s parents, quite sure he won’t be able to do the same with me. Donsoya is very much a second family, for certain aspects, and the way Adama introduces his students to his relatives is telling. But it also means I have some duties, for example a pile of wooden logs is waiting for me the next time I visit him, to become the roof of his guesthouse. Some hierarchies are to be respected as well, so next month we’ll drive to visit the President of the Kénédougou hunters’ association Nafali Koné, in Orodara, and his vice in Samogohiri. Adama wants every knot of his network to know and accept me.
Finally, Adama told me about the future, when I’ll leave Burkina to get back to England. My fellow hunters have the duty to inform me of the death of one of us, or of his relatives. I must be informed of annual sacrifices at the dankun as well, in order to be able to send a cock to sacrifice for me. I’ll be able to ask things to the dankun and receive a response, even from abroad. I think back to some pages of Charles Bird or Patrick McNaughton I read, depicting the hunter as an individualist personality. There is something to adjust here, with all these relationships involved, what I would call the dankun network. No wonder it is placed at a conjunction of paths.