Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hunterman and the Crocodile

In the January 2007 issue of Book Links there is an article about Baba Wague Diakite (ba–ba wah–GAY DJAH–kee tay), a story-teller, writer and artist from Mali, West Africa. He grew up in a large extended family in a small village. He came to the US in 1985 and settled in Portland, Oregon. He is called “Wague”, which means “man of trust”, after his grandfather. He made puppet shows for the children in his neighborhood as a young man, and when he became his father he started making up stories for his daughter. They would make books together every week. His most recent published book, I Lost My Tooth In Africa is written with his daughter. I reviewed it last fall.

The Hunterman and the Crocodile is his first published book. It is a story he based on one of the proverbs he learned as a child. He says that it,
“teaches that man must live in harmony with nature and not place himself above it. In this tale, both the hunterman and the crocodile need something from each other in order to solve a problem.”
It starts out with a crocodile family going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. They run out of food and water and are lying under a baobab tree resting when the hunterman comes along. Although he is afraid of being eaten they convince him to tie the whole family together and carry them back to the river on his head. Of course once they are back in the water their hunger takes over and they threaten to eat him. He calls out for help but one after another a cow, a horse, a chicken and a tree denounce him because man has not been good to them in the past and doesn’t deserve their help. Finally a rabbit appears and cheerfully tricks the crocodiles into demonstrating how they were tied up and carried. Now the man can take them home and eat them up! He invites the rabbit home to share the feast of course. But that is not the end of the story. When the man gets home his wife is sick and dying. The healer insists that the only way to cure her is to give her crocodile tears to drink. Hunterman offers to free the crocs in return for some of their tears, which causes them to cry with joy. The man never forgets the lesson he has learned.
“From that time forward he has reminded people of the importance of living in harmony with nature and the necessity of placing Man among – not above – all living things.”

The artwork is stunning. The black silhouettes are dramatic. Wague explains in Book Links, “Even though these are painted pictures on clay tiles, I am referencing the look of mud cloth painting, with white outlines around the black silhouette figures. Mud cloth is a unique textile technique of the Bamana people of Mali. Designs are painted with dark mud on treated woven cotton cloth.” The backgrounds are brilliant orange and yellow skies, with some blue and green for water and vegetation. The hand-painted tiles are bordered with traditional mud cloth patterns. The sun wears a smile, which Wague says, “reminds me of my grandmother. She told me so many stories when I was young, and by putting the sun in the picture it is as if she is looking down on me, and is always there.” It is wonderful to have this treasure of a book which passes on to us the wisdom of Wague’s parents and grandparents. Enjoy the artwork and read the book online here.

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