Black Spirituality Religion : "Nyama" and the Mande People of West Afrika.

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Sekhemu, Feb 25, 2007.

  1. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The Mande people, like many other Africans are a very "magical" people in nature. This can be mostly attributed to the Nyamakalaw subgroup; an endogamous people who are born with the inherent ability to negotiate the forces of nature. The power they are able to wield so well is called nyama. In fact their name nyama-kala could be translated as handlers (kala) of nyama. The Mande see nyama as a hot, wild energy that is the animating force in nature. Nyama is present in all rocks, trees, people and animals that inhabit the Earth. It is similar to the Western notion of the soul but is more complete than that. It controls nature, the stars and the motions of the sea. Nyama is truly the sculptor of the universe.

    While nyama molds nature into it's many forms, the nyamakalaw can shape nyama into art. The nyamakalaw spend their entire lives perfecting special secret skills that are passed down from generation to generation. The nyamakalaw are the only people in Mande that can use "magic" are often skilled as sorcerers, blacksmiths, leather workers and bards.

    No matter what occupation the nyamakalaw chose the products they create can undoubtedly be considered art. If a bard plays an instrument and sings, that music is art. If a blacksmith forges an iron staff for the king, it is art. The nyamakalaw makea great deal of art for the Mande people but some are more central to their practices than others. A ritual mask like those used in Ci Wara agricultural celebration is a necessity to the non-nyamakalaw peoples of Mande. As much as the Horonw (A Mande subgroup) despise the nyamakalaw, they are forced to respect them and their art because it is vital for their own needs.

    However, the Yoruba have a slightly different understanding about "magic" is called Ase. Ase is also present in all things and can be either positive or negating. This being the case, Ase is mostly related to the griots (bards) of the Mande and their ability to make their nyama flow directly out of their body rather than into a sculpture or sword.

    Along with Ase there is what the Yoruba call Aba or the ability to display one's Ase. This is central to the performer as the essence of Yoruba play is to relay one's own interpretation of tradition to a given audience or client. Ase, therefore playst an important role in shaping Yoruba ritual and thus Yoruba society.

    Women also possess a special kind of power called Aje . This vital force is what enables women to make things happen, weather it be childbirth or healing. Just as Ase is a trasnformative power, women with are Aje are able to morph their bodies into other creatures. Women in Yorubaland are treated with a great deal of respect which probably stems form, among other things, their magical healing powers.

    In most Mande-speaking societies, the nyamakalaw are broken down into three groups: blacksmiths, or nunuw, bards or Jeliw, and leather workers or garankew. Their delicate and unmatched dealings with nyama, keeps them closely bound together within society and seperates them from the rest of the Mande world. Nyama must be present for a task to be performed, and it is a necessary by-product of every act. Although people who are not nyamakalaw can sometimes learn how to handle nyama, only the nyamakalaw are born with the secret expertise that allows them to handle the dangerous amounts necessary for their professions. The Mande believe words possess high levels of nyama, and the Jeliw are trained to manipulate this power. The numuw are trained to deal with nyama because it is present in inorganic matter like minerals, and is released when ore is smelted or iron is shaped. The garankew handle nyama because the life force and power animals possess is retained in leather and is released with the manipulation of leather. Aside from their specific professions, the nyamakalaw also practice "sorcery", which involves handling dangerous levels of nyama as they interced in and redirect both natural and social processess.
     
  2. Blackbird

    Blackbird Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    I will comment on this when I have the time. Wrote an essay on the Mande people back in undergrad.

    Kayira be, kotomaa

    Blackbird
     
  3. nibs

    nibs Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    (Sekhemu) - the Nyamakalaw subgroup; an endogamous people who are born with the inherent ability to negotiate the forces of nature. The power they are able to wield so well is called nyama. In fact their name nyama-kala could be translated as handlers (kala) of nyama. The Mande see nyama as a hot, wild energy that is the animating force in nature.

    it's always interesting to see how the words themselves break down; as it further illustrates the thinking.

    the akan call the supreme being "nyame" in twi. according my my twi dictionary, it seems that:
    nyame -> nya (to find) + me (i/me)

    so it seems that the supreme being is viewed as the greater aspect of one's self; and to know god would be "to find me" or "to find my self", or "to know thy self".

    the igbo have a similar concept with chukwu:
    chukwu -> chi (spirit double) + ukwu (great)

    everything has a chi, chukwu is the great universal chi that embodies all chi's. there is an igbo parable that states:
    onye nyobe mmuo
    o fu chi ya

    whoever prys the spirit, sees his or her chi.

    thus, god is the supreme source of one's own self.
     
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