Sunday, November 11, 2007

Millet or silver cookies

Amadou Hampâte Bâ tells in his book Mémoires that, in the French West Africa, the governor of Dakkar imposed a tax to the indigenous people in his territories, something ironically called "the price of the soul", because of being the tax to be paid for the right to life. It was through the circle commanders that taxes were collected.
"Silver cookies?"

One day in the year 1916, the governor had decided that, since then, the tax could not be paid in nature anymore, but in cash. The commander in the circle of Dori gathered the chiefs of tuareg tribes to let them know the new rule.

When the chief of Logomaten tribes was present, he told the interpreter: "Tell the chief that, by the governor's order, from now on the tax will not be collected in nature, but in currency."

The interpreter turned to the chief and expressed in the Fula language of Dori: "The commander has said that the great governor has said that from now on the tax must be paid in bouddi". It must be said that, in Fula, the word bouddi is used to designate coins of five francs, but also boiled millet cookies.

The tuareg chief, very happy, smiled and said: "Interpreter! Thank the commander, and tell him that I own a great amount of millet, and also servants that can prepare as many bouddi as he wants, enough to feed the population of Dori during months!".

The interpreter realised about the mistake: "He does not mean bouddi of millet flour, but bouddi in money." The chief, confused, asked to be shown a sample of the cookie he was demanded. The commander gave a five francs coin to the interpreter, who held it to the chief. He turned it, stared at it, weighed it, bite it... afterwards gave it back to the interpreter: "This silver cookie, where was it cooked?". After listening to the interpreter, the commander exploded: "In France! Where does he want it to come?".

"In France?", said the interpreter, surprised. "Interpreter, tell the commander to be reasonable. He is asking me to give him money cookies that have been cooked in France, being French himself. I am a tuareg from Dori, who can only make millet cookies. It should be me who asked him for money cookies from his home, and not the contrary! If the commander wants the tax to be paid in camels, oxes, lambs, goats, millet, rice, butter or slaves, then I can do it. But if he is demanding me to give him the cookies he is showing me, which are cooked in France, then he wants fight. I accept! But I warn him: the tuareg I am finds fight as one's element!".

Immediately after, he showed the right arm to the commander: "Interpreter! Tell the commander to look at my arm. It is not less white neither worse that his. Look at my nose: it is not less straight than his. I am as white as him. If we were alone, man to man, the commander would not dictate me his will, as he is not stronger neither braver than me. If he wanted, I would invite him for a personal duel at the dunes, and I would be sure to beat him. But no... the only advantage the commander has on me, which allows him to torment me with his "I want this" and "I do not want that", is because his country is stronger than mine."

Whitout saying farewell, the tuareg chief went out and jumped on his dromedary. There was never a duel between the commander and the chief, but a war between France and the tuaregs, specially the tribes of Logomaten and Oudalan. It was the great revolt of 1916.


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