The Republic of Guinea
from Rags to Riches

Introduction - Demography - Climate - Historical life - Towns - Daily life
Markets - Religions - Arts - Women in Guinea - Oral tradition


In Guinea, everybody refers to oral tradition like in all Africa. The guardians of this knowledge are the Griots and they have the inviolable moral obligation to respect the truth when repeating lists of names and deeds word for word, sometimes at the risk of their lives in the event of an error.

Griots whose job it was to glorify a prominent figure or family have adjusted to contemporary life by becoming singers. They keep abreast of gossip and do not hesitate to reveal secrets likely to embarrass the person they are singing about.unless the satire turns into praise in return for a generous payment! That kind of Griot, an entertainer as well as a go-between in various types of everyday negotiations, has rights others do not and is entitled to dress up end embellish the truth. But sometimes they manage to escape this subordinate role.

In L'enfant noir, Camara Laye describes how the griot of his blacksmith-jeweler father sang while his employer worked. "He was no longer the paid flatterer whose services anyone and everyone could hire. He was a man who created song out of a need he felt at the bottom of his soul." And when the work was finished and he sang the douga, he had to take precautions to ward off attacks from evil spirits that the hymn of triumph could unleash. Traditionalists, who are expected to transmit what they have been told word for word, are at the top of the griot hierarchy. Modern Guinean writers such as Camara Laye, who died in 1980, use them as intermediaries.

In L'enfant noir Camara Laye wrote about his childhood and daily life in Kouroussa. Upper Guinea, during the 1930's. In Le maître de la parole ("The Master of the Spoken Word") he passed on the teachings of Kouma Lafolo Kouma, told the epic of Soundiata and recounted stories told by the greatest traditionalist griots in guinea and neighboring countries.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Guinea published in Far Eastern Economic Review (Dow Jones Group)
September 28th 2000 Issue.

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