Bakary Diédhiou: interview transcript

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Bakary Diédhiou: interview transcript

Bakary Diédhiou lives in Tenghory village, Casamance province, Senegal. He was aged 60 when he was interviewed on 6 December 2009 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Jola and carried out by a community radio resource person who had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.

Can you tell me your name?
My name is Bakary Diédhiou.

Where were you born?
I was born in Silenkine, on the road to Dakar. My father's name is Insa Diédhiou and my mother is Aïssatou Sané.

And you grew up in Silenkine?
Yes, but later I left Silenkine and went to Boutoute.

How many children did your parents have?
Eight children: four sons and four daughters.

How many wives did your father have?
He had four wives. The fifth one died.

Was she ill?
She was very ill. My father tried to do what he could but God took her from him.

Did he take her to the hospital or did he try traditional medicine?
He first took her to hospital and they kept her for a month. As it was not working he turned to
traditional medicine.

Did he have to pay for the traditional medicine?
Yes, they asked for payment. And he paid. One healer asked for a goat and the other one asked for money. For the hospital he had to pay for prescriptions.

Did that wife have a child?
Yes, she has three children: two girls and a boy. They also helped in taking care of their sick mother.

Now let's come back to you: have you been to school?
Yes I was enrolled in school but dropped out quickly.

Why did you drop out?
Well, I wasn't good at school, and I didn't like it.

Today how do you feel about not being educated?
I really regret having left school. I am convinced that if I was educated I would have been a lot better off. There are things I want to do but I can't.

Like what?
I wish I could read or write my own letters, or take notes on things I want to remember.

What do you think you can do about it now?
I am sure that if I have the opportunity to study, I will be very good, because I have so much will.

Tell me, how many wives do you have?
I married three wives. One died, the other one went to the Gambia some time ago, so there is only one left at home.

The one who died, was it from illness too?
Indeed she was very ill. I took her to traditional healers and they told me what was wrong with her.

And what was wrong with her?
They told me that it was an evil spirit that was after her. That evil spirit came in the form of a big lizard.

Did she not feel it before?
In fact she did, and it was her uncle's wife who cast that spell on her by throwing hot water at her, which burnt her. But she did not talk about it before, not to cause trouble. But when she fell ill she knew she would die.

Did her relatives know about that spell?
Yes they did. But her uncle said that his wife didn't do it deliberately. My wife was outside and the water was thrown out of a window. It landed on her.

Do you think she would have been cured if she had spoken earlier about the incident?
Yes… If she had been to a traditional healer after it happened, she would have been cured.

How is that kind of treatment usually done?
Usually you have to get a chicken and they know what to do with it.

Was it the treatment you tried?
No, I was washing her with water in which roots had been soaked. It was given to me by marabouts (religious leader and teacher).

Was it too costly for you?
Oh yes it was. I carried on because I really wanted her to recover. But she didn't.

Did she have any children?
Yes, she has three children: two boys and one girl. They have grown up now.

Do they go to school?
They are all at school.

What about the wife who went to The Gambia. Why did she go?
Well, she left for The Gambia when I married the second wife. She said she was going to look for a bed. She hasn't come back ever since.

So you didn't buy beds for your wives?
Bed? We never knew what a bed was. You stuff sacks with grass.

And she was lying on that?
Yes. And we even had children. Then the second wife came. There was no problem for a while. But she fell ill and went to The Gambia. After she recovered, she worked as a maid in Banjul for two months. So she was able to buy a bed and came back with it. Then my first wife said she too was going to The Gambia to look for a bed. It's years now since she left.

Have you ever tried to go to The Gambia and find out about her?
I did. I went to where I was told she was living. But when I got there I was told that she had moved to somewhere else. And they would not let me know where she went. After three days there I had to come back to look after my house.

So you don't know if she will come back or not?
No I don't know. I am just waiting.

In total, how many children do you have?
I have six children.

And all of them are at school?
No, only three are at school. Two children of the wife who is in The Gambia are at home. They don't go to school. One is at kindergarten.

Is it a Western school or Koranic school?
Only one, a girl, goes to Koranic school. But she still goes to Western school and when she comes home she goes on to Koranic school.

What is your main source of income to keep your family?
I am a peasant. I plough and it is what I harvest that I use to feed my family.

And what do you grow?
Groundnuts, millet, sorghum, beans.

With what do you plough?
I till the soil with the traditional tool edonkotong (traditional tilling tool of the Mandinka ethnic group).

But that tool is used by the Mandinka ethnic group. Why would a Jola use it?
That's what I have been taught. I don't know how to use the kadiandou (traditional tilling tool) of the Jolas.

And alone you are able to plough enough for all of those crops in one rainy season?
Yes; I start with the first rain.

And what you produce is enough to feed the family all year round?
I am afraid it doesn't cover the whole year.

Once the food is finished what do you do?
I run around for help; and sometimes I can have a small job and get some money.

What kind of job can you get?
I can cut trees for someone, or clear grass, or if someone is building a mud house I can help and get something; you know, anything I can do to keep my family going.

And your brothers don't help?
No. One is in Spain. I sometimes call him on the phone. But he never says anything precise. I tell him that all my children are also his children. But up to today I haven't received the smallest thing from him.

Why do you think he is not helping?
It is up to his conscience. We worked hard together with our father for him to have the money to go Spain.

Was it clear before he left that because he is using family money to travel to Spain, he would in return send some back to the family?
It was very clear. We even have asked him to take some of our children to Spain. But he is not doing it. I don't think that it is because he can't. If he didn't have anything there he would not have stayed in Spain.

So no hope from him. Do you sometimes find yourself without anything at all to feed the family?
That happens often. But I always manage to have something in the cooking pot with help from people I know around here. Or I go to the bush and see what I can get there.

Do you sometimes borrow from others?
Very often. If you don't do it you won't survive. I borrow money to buy food. It may happen that someone doesn't lend you money but gives you a little bit of food for free. But that is rare.

Do you always go to people you are related to or what?
Not necessarily. You go to people you trust can do it.

Did it ever happen that you were able to put away something for difficult times?
No… I can't.

So no money, not even cattle?
No money, no cattle.

But if you have no cattle what will you do when the bukut (a Jola initiation event for young men into adult life) comes?
It is actually a big worry for me. I am very worried indeed right now.

How do you find your work?
It is very hard; very, very hard indeed. You know with the edonkotong you have to bend all day to till the soil. But there is nothing else I can do.

If you could have help to drop the edonkotong, what would that help be?
I would want something to live on.

I don't mean for you to stop working; but to be freed from the edonkotong.
If I could have anything to do that brings me a monthly payment, I would be very happy.

And you would stop ploughing?
Yes I would stop, if I had money to live on.

So working the land is not so good?
It is not, in the conditions in which I am doing it. But since it is the only thing I have, it is my livelihood.

If you were to be born again, what kind of activity would you have wanted to carry out for a living?
An activity that gives me enough money to feed my family.

And what would that activity be?
For instance if being a teacher gives you enough money to sustain your family, then I would have wanted to be a teacher. Or indeed any other job that brings me enough income.

And right now if somebody walks in and says he wants to help you, what would you ask him?
I would ask him to give me some money.

And what would you do with that money?
I would immediately go to buy enough rice to feed myself for a long time. And then I will think what to do next if I still have some money left. I will invest somewhere in order to have some income every day.

What for example?
For example I can build a good place, and rent it out.

But if the person won't give you the money for free, but they lend it to you for repayment on agreed terms, what will you do with the money?
What else do you want me to do other than go buy food? I will still go rightaway and buy rice. And then I will see how to pay back.

But you will have a problem paying back!
Then I will come to the lender and explain my predicament. I just can't do anything else with the money when there is no food at home. It is only when there is more money left that I can invest in order to pay back.

What kind of future do you have in mind for your children?
As you can see I toil every day, and worry all the time about survival. I don't want my children to experience the same situation once I am dead.

What if they could have proper equipment to plough, would you want them to remain with the land?
You see, apart from survival, my other main concern is what I will leave to my children when I die. I don't want them to suffer when I am not around. That's why I have started a garden. So that when I am gone my children can get something out of it.

Bakary, you knew you were poor, why did you marry several wives?
I would say God gave me those wives. You know my uncle gave me one wife, I looked for another wife, you know I didn't know that it would be so difficult.

Then at that time, what gave you the confidence to marry so many wives?
I trusted in my own strength to work the land. Now I don't work as much as I used to do.

And why is that?
Well, my strength is going down. And also there is not as much rain today as there used to be. You know – before, the rainy season was long enough for you to grow successively millet, sorghum, groundnuts and rice. But today the rain stops almost as soon as you start ploughing.


So you harvested more before than you do today
I harvested far more than I can hope to harvest today. My crops were enough to feed me all year round. With my first two wives we used to produce enough millet and rice.

In the fields, do you have any help or are you alone?
I have always been alone since I got married. I now have one boy who helps. I have great hope in him. Both at school and in the fields.

Do you think there is any good at all in marrying several wives?
It is good when you are a peasant. You work and they work and you put all together. Secondly, with several wives you can have a lot of children. And they too will help with work when they grow up and as your strength dwindles.

But don't you think that before children grow up, you will have a hard time feeding them?
That is true. In fact I am going through that hard time.

Bakary, you said that you are originally from Silinkine, but you left to go and settle in Boutoute. What made you leave Silinkine?
It was my father who went to consult marabouts. And they told him that his right dwelling place is Boutoute. We, his children, grew up there and got married there.

And did the marabouts tell your father exactly why he should leave Silinkine?
He was always ill in Silinkine. So they told him to move out of the place. And once he settled in Boutoute he got a lot better.

What kind of activity did you have in Boutoute?
The same thing as always: ploughing.

So you had some land there?
No, it was other people's land. Our own land is in Silinkine.

Who have you left that land with?
My uncle – that is, my father's brother. But he too has died, after my father. Now other people are using that land.

Do they know it is your land?
Yes they do. We go there from time to time.

Do you just lend the land, or do they sign some kind of agreement with you?
No, there is nothing signed. We just discuss with them and they can work for themselves.

What if they plant trees there?
Oh no they can't plant any tree there! In fact they use cattle to plough. We didn't do that.

Why didn't you use cattle?
Because we didn't have any. Indeed even today if I can have cattle I would use them to plough.

Then right now if somebody helped with a pair of cattle you would take it?
Of course I would be happy to take it. That would take me far. And I wouldn't have to run around looking for food for my family.


But what about Boutoute, you don't own any land at all there?
No, we don't own anything there. They just gave us a small plot where we could build our house. It's only there where we planted a mango tree. That's all. For the rest they lent us land to grow millet and groundnuts.

And you didn't grow rice?
Yes we did, but we had to go the neighbouring village of Djifanghor. That was where our wives were cultivating rice.

Only your wives? You men didn't work on the rice fields?
We sometimes helped them. It was their work. And when they finish they grow vegetables in gardens: tomatoes, okras, etc. And they sell.

Was life difficult in Boutoute?
It was. Because whenever we ran out of rice there was no one to turn to.

Why did you leave Boutoute to come and settle here in Tenghory?
The place had become dangerous because of the armed conflict in Casamance. We all left and went to Ziguinchor. But the rest of the family has gone back now that the troubles have abated. But I have decided to settle here in Tenghory. I have a house where I am living.

What do you understand about the troubles in Casamance?
It is just the way the world goes. No one can really tell you why the troubles broke out.

So you really have suffered from the troubles?
Oh yes we felt it. A short while after the conflict broke out the army told us to leave the village and go to Ziguinchor. Then they told us again to go back to the village.

Where did you stay in Ziguinchor?
I have a sister who is married in Ziguinchor. She gave us a place to stay in. And we went back and forth between Ziguinchor and Boutoute, following orders by the army.

And where did you get your food from in Ziguinchor?
Most of the time we had to ask for food from goodwill people. Sometimes the government helped. I remember they helped twice. But it really was a difficult time.

But what about the kids, they couldn't go to school any more?
No I am afraid. But even in Boutoute they couldn't go to school. The teachers had run away.

What did you do when a child fell ill in Ziguinchor?
You could take him to hospital there.

When you decided to come and settle here, how did you get here all the way from Boutoute?
A relative of mine paid for my transport and that of my family.

And who gave you the plot of land where you have built your house?
A friend of mine gave it to me. I am ever so grateful to him.

So you own the house where you are living?
Yes I own it. My friend even gave me papers for the plot. Just in case.


Let's come back to your wives. Do they get on well?
When all three of them were living together, they got on very well. I was very happy with them.

Thank you very much for your time

[The first interview ends]

Follow up interview with Bakary Diédhiou, 13 January 2010

Is what you produce enough to feed the family all year round?
The food I produce can last two months or maybe a little bit more.  So I collect firewood and burn it to produce charcoal. That's what I sell to sustain my family. I also cultivate short-cycle beans and I sell too, to have money. A lot of other people do the same as me. We are in the same situation.

The soil is no longer fertile. And there is not enough rain. We try to use organic fertilizers like dead leaves, cattle dung, etc. Still it doesn't improve very much. You sometimes have bushfires. And you never know who started the fire.

In the Jola community, wherever there is rice, there is happiness. But actually we should realize that millet is a better crop. Because with millet you could produce several types of food whereas with rice there is only one type.

Do you know of anyone who has been successful in working the land?
Yes I do. It was a young man. He didn't even have a pair of trousers to wear. The neighbours had to help him. He started a small market garden. First he grew hot pepper and sold it. And then he did tomatoes and other vegetables and went from village to village to sell them. By that time he was beginning to wear nice trousers and beautiful shirts. He didn't have any wives or children, so he could save money. He went on to plant orange and lemon trees as well other types of fruit tree. They brought him a lot of income. After five years the young man had become the civil servant of the neighbourhood. What I mean by civil servant is somebody with a steady monthly income.

So, that is success for you?
Well, success is when you don't have any financial problems; when you eat enough and well.

What are the consequences of the troubles?
Life is so much more difficult for people in Casamance today! You see me, I was in Boutoute and today I am in Tanghory. I would have preferred to stay at home, where I grew up. I abandoned everything I had to start a new life here. Not only is it not safe to go to work on the fields, but your mind is never at rest for your family.

For you, what can be done to stop the conflict?
I don't really see. If somebody can help, they'd better do it. As for us, we have only prayers to offer. We pray to God that this stops.

Were not the difficult conditions of life sometimes a source of conflict between you and your wives?
Yes, sometimes. For instance if I was able to buy a bed for my first wife, maybe she would not have to have gone to The Gambia and stayed there for that long.

Talking about difficulties, where do you get drinking water?
I have a well in the compound, a traditional borehole. We drink that water and draw it also for the animals. In fact around here every household has a well. That's why they last a long time. In other areas you have one well for the whole neighbourhood. And that doesn't last long.

What about when somebody falls ill in the family?
Around here whenever anybody is ill, we take them to the nearest health post. Before, healthcare used to be free. But not any more. You have to buy a ticket to be seen by a qualified person. And then there is the prescription that you have to pay for. And if you have to be kept in hospital, that's another big problem.

Thank you very much for your time