Like in politics, our penchant for disrespecting those we disagree with or those with whom we do not share similar values extends into the cultural sphere and that hits a chord. Disagreeing to something or not sharing similar values with the next person is not the issue; how far down the lane of disrespect that degenerates into is where the problem lies. Those who follow me on social media will notice that I take a swipe at my Jarranka cousins quite often with jokes. Some of my Badibunka/Kiangka friends engage in similar endeavors and it is always fun from all sides with responses along similar lines so much so people laugh at jokes made at their own expense.
On more than one occasion, some comments in response to such threads were so out of taste and insensitive that one could be excused for thinking they were made by non-Gambians. It is unfortunate that some Gambians, either out of ignorance or a sense of entitlement feel left out of such relationships and claim that should they join in that “battle of cousins” people will take offence, the insinuation slanting to the all too familiar culprit; tribalism; a sense of “we can’t join because we are not them.” It is really disheartening to see that almost everything in our little haven is being viewed through sectarian lenses, creating acrimony where none exists or should ever exist.
We should really take time to learn a little bit more about each other and do so with open minds. The concept of Sanawuya/Dangkutto is an age old tradition that has been at the core of Manding society in particular and generally in our region, some aspects of it cultivated later than others. It was such an important concept that it was incorporated into the Charter of Manding – the Kurugan Fuga. Article 7 of the charter states;
The Sanankunya/[Sanawuya] (joking relationship) and the Tanamannyonya/[Dangkutto] (blood pact) have been established among the Mandinka. Consequently, any contention that occurs among these groups should not degenerate the respect for one another being the rule. Between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, between grandparents and grandchildren, tolerance should be the principle.
This was a document adopted in the 13th century, in addition to the safety cushion it provides to absorb some of the discontent within the community, it helps address issues of concern in a free and open environment. In essence, freedom of speech is enhanced, no holds barred. Which is why to balance it out, Sanawuyaoften goes alongside Dangkutto which provides parameters or limits which must not be crossed even in that environment. Sanawuya is highly regarded and holds a very special place in our culture.
The relationship exists between Jarra and Niumi. Kiang and Badibu share one, Badibunkas and Serahules, Jolas and Serers; the various regions of Manding; Kaabunkas and Jahankas, Mandinkas and Fulas (likely after the battle of Kansala) etc.
At the family level between cousins, grandchildren and grandparents, and people from families with certain last names. A grandchild can make fun of their grandparent and get away with it, within the bounds of respect of course. Insults and foul words are absolutely out of the question. You can mock, make fun of, or pick on a person you have a joking relationship with and they are required to laugh it off or respond in like measure but never respond in anger or take offence as one normally would.
Perhaps the most prominent and most outlandish is the Sanawuya between Jarra and Niumi; that one stretches the limits a little further but in good faith. As jovial as it is, the story that gave rise to the relationship, which goes along with the concept of Dangkutto is rooted in a very moving episode in history; one of courage, trust, and sincere goodwill, one borne out of genuine friendship and upright character.
The narrative has it that the King of Niumi and the King of Jarra made a pact that no true native of either of their kingdoms shall ever upset or give grief to a native of the other. They swore on their crowns and prayed for ill-fortune to descend on such an individual; being that the prayers were made with sincere intent, and being the conservative communities that both are, the natives dare not test fate.
This pact was initiated by Niumi Mans as a show of deep gratitude to Jarra Mansa who laid down his life for his counterpart; literally. To cut a long story short, the two kings amongst others went to declare their loyalty to the throne as subject kingdoms of the empire; on that expedition Niumi Mansa fell afoul of the throne (no he was not high) and was to be sentenced to death. He sought permission to return to Niumi and convey his fate, that request was deemed unusual, as a man sentenced to death would not be expected to return to have the sentence carried out after being let go of. Jarra Mansa stepped in and offered himself in the place of Niumi Mansa, that should Niumi Mansa not return, the sentence can be carried out on him and pleaded that Niumi Mansa be allowed to return to his people as requested.
Niumi Mansa returned home and came back just in time to avert the execution of Jarra Mansa; to this the emperor stated that these two are worth wearing the crown, for a man to have given his word and stood by it no matter how dire the circumstance, and for another to be so brave and compassionate enough to lay their life on the line for another is extraordinary, that it will be a waste to execute either of the men or end such a friendship. He offered his blessings and freed them to go back and rule their kingdoms. When they were about to part ways at the end of the return trip; they shook hands to bid farewell and in that moment the pact was made.
A grateful Niumi Mansa, holding the Hand of Jarra Mansa stated; from this day forth should a son or daughter of Niumi cause grief to a son or daughter of Jarra, may it not be well for the culprit, a statement reciprocated by Jarra Mansa giving birth to the Sanawuya and Dangkutto between the two regions. In honor of their memories and sacrifices for one another, the people of these two regions still uphold that pact and you will be hard put to find a Jarranka who cannot get along with a Niuminka or vice versa. Lesson; if you witness them go at each other, stay out of it.
This form of societal set up offers the chance for people to be blunt with each other without risking angry retaliations. It is used as a means of mediation in times of dispute where your “Sanawo” (noun) can be called upon to deliver the truth that others may shy away from for fear of harming whatever relationship they may have with you. As a Sanawo, you have earned the privilege of not risking anything for speaking the hard truth. Also in cases where a person you share a joking relationship with is angry about something or someone, he or she has to let their anger go if the Sanawo ask them to. Of course the concept has been watered down so much in our time.
The art of Roasting, Blazing, or Clowning as practiced amongst black Americans is traced back to the concept of what is known as The Dozens. You are probably more familiar with “Yo’Mama” jokes, which is an aspect of Roasting. The Dozens was traced back to the plantations and with strong evidence of African origins. It is an aspect of Sanawuya that today is more prevalent among youngsters who still engage in the practice across West Africa. We know that component as Tombongdirro/Aaji wanteh; a children’s version if you like. Like in Sanawuya, you cannot engage in that art with just anyone, not especially with elders, it is a practice confined to age mates.
American sociologist Harry Lefever and journalist John Leland in writing about The Dozens stated that “other ethnic groups often fail to understand how to play the game and can take remarks in The Dozens seriously.” This can be attributed to their lack of understanding of the concept, its origins or purpose. In a similar case, if a non-native of any of the regions that share the Sanawuya/Dangkutto relationship should take part, they may easily get offended or go beyond the limits set for lack of understanding, that is not discriminatory in any way.
Asking simple questions without being overly sensitive usually clears things up and we should try to make that a habit; simple insightful questions devoid of sentiment, just seek answers then form an opinion, we will go much further and much faster too.
So don’t be like the Jarranka lady pretending to be all classy and informed but did not take long for her cover to be blown when offered a drink. “Mbaaring musso attaya felleh.”She responded; “Nteh buka hattayaa ming, n’ka worrko leh ming (I do not drink attaya, I drink warrga – same thing). Although you can’t blame her, Niumi attaya in many cases is especially strong, enhanced by a certain leaf added to the brewing, you know…
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