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Katrin Pfeiffer, M.A.
Universitšt Hamburg
Rothenbaumchaussee 67/69
20148 Hamburg
Tel.: 040 - 4123.5675


With this contribution, I want to report on the project "Editing Mandinka Texts" which was financed by the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). The project was initiated and supervised by Professor Gerhardt. The aim of the project was to compile a collection of Mandinka spoken art texts in order to publish a selection from it. The collection contains texts from the archive of the Research and Documentation Division (RDD) in Banjul and my own recordings. The RDD is a department of the National Council of Arts and Culture which is subordinated to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture of the Gambian government. The RDD's task is to collect, process and publish orally transmitted texts of art as well as other texts containing information about the different cultures and the history of The Gambia.

In The Gambia, the Mandinka form the majority of the population, whereas in southern Senegal (Casamance) and in Guinea Buissau they form large ethnic groups. As the main spoken language in The Gambia, Mandinka is used both as a mother-tongue and as a lingua franca.

I spent the first period of the project - the whole of 1994 - in The Gambia, where I did recordings, transcriptions and most of the translations. In the second period - back to Hamburg - lasting for another seven months, I worked on finalising the translations and on the layout for the publication of the selected Mandinka texts. Presently I am waiting for the o.k. from the German Research Association so that I can send the manuscript to the publishing house.

Although there are hybrid forms existing, the Mandinka repertoire of spoken art can be grouped in five main genres:

1. "griot accounts (epics, historical reports, genealogies),

2. "folk-tales",

3. "songs",

4. proverbs and

5. riddles.

In order to avoid the term "oral literature" because of its inherent contradic tion, I use the term "spoken art". Of course, one may argue, that the term "spoken art" is neither appropriate, because usually the narrative genres "griot accounts" and "folk-tales" contain sung parts, let alone the genre of songs. But in the Mandinka case - terminologically - there is no distinction between "to sing" and "to speak". In narrations - such as folk-tales - sung parts are understood as direct speech and are usually introduced with a ko or i ko which means "he/she said" or "they said". The Mandinka language does not even have any term for "to sing". "To sing a song" would be expressed by donkiloo laa, where laa means "to present/perform", analogous to mansaali laa which means "to present a riddle". These facts indicate that singing is understood as a different media of speaking, and thus the different genres may be summarized as "spoken art".

From the recording of orally transmitted texts to the final publication in a written form, one has to go through six working phases. These phases can and must have steps in between but at the moment I want to concentrate on the following:



III.Translation into target language


V.Selection of texts for publication

I will not talk about the final phase - the presentation - separately, but point to it when I report on the transcription, the translation and the annotation.

Originally it was planned that I should work on the recordings available at the RDD for the main part. But unfortunately after the first three months of my stay in The Gambia, the members of the staff of the RDD who are responsible for transcribing went on strike, so that I could not work with them anymore. As I did not want to loose time, I looked for somebody else who could assist me with transcribing Mandinka texts, and who would accompany me when going for my own recordings. Although the formerly planned, close collaboration with the RDD was then losened, I always kept in touch with the senior officers and discussed my intended working steps with them.

I. Recording

The 'planned' recording of spoken art cannot capture the genuine atmosphere of a live performance. But I tried to include certain features of the performances in order to recall the 'natural' situation. To give you an example: Iinvited guests for the griot performances to let the griot have a real audience. And at the other recording sessions (e.g. for folktales), we allowed everybody who wished to do so to join in.

The presence of a tape recorder is another risk to authenticity. I tried to limit this risk by using a walkman with a small microphone, which the informants could easily 'forget' during their performances.

The presence of a person who does not belong to the society in question can also result in the reservedness of the informants. But I hope that my knowledge of the Mandinka language and my familiarity with the social behaviour among the Mandinka helped me to overcome this problem, too.

All contacts to the informants were possible through my already existing personal contacts. The first recordings were done in Serekunda, at the home of one of my assistants and at other compounds where he had suggested us to go for recordings. The subsequent recordings were done in a village in the Badibu District, called Salikenye, on the north bank of the river Gambia. Three times we went to Salikenye and approached women - who are the narrators of folk-tales. We went to their homes and asked them whether they would be ready to narrate some folk-tales for us, or, whether they knew any riddles or songs. Most of the women appreciated helping us and were eager to tell us as many folk-tales as possible and other text forms as well. All the recordings with the griots were arranged by my landlord, the director of the NCAC.

The entire corpus consists of 296 folk-tales, 4 griot accounts, 29 songs, and about 100 riddles and 100 proverbs. Before I went back to Germany, a copy of each recording was submitted to the RDD.

II. Transcription

The transcription of spoken art means the transfer from the spoken to the written medium. That results in a shift from a unique, unrepeatable performance to a material, repeatable and even reprintable form. (In fact, recording already does the same to such texts.)

All the transcriptions were done by one of my assistants - a Gambian Mandinka speaker. When copying the transcriptions, I had to check, whether a repetition of an utterance is a slip of the tounge, or, whether it was intended and serves for the emphasis of an expression. Those identified as slips of the tounge were left out finally, because they could have brought about confusion concerning the content.

When presenting an originally spoken art form in a written manner, one has to decide to which extent the oral features shall be represented. My approach is based on the readability of the presented texts. Therefore, I did not indicate the speed or loudness of speech, or the length of pauses.

The punctuation (full stop and comma) follows the grammatical breaks and, in addition, the speaker's pauses. A colon marks the shift from the spoken to the sung medium. Songs which frequently occur in folk-tales and griot accounts are printed in italics, indented, and marked by the use of a special type. Inaudible parts are not marked if they do not interrupt the sentence or the whole narration. Otherwise they are marked by 'xxx'.

III. Translation into the target language (English)

At first, we had the idea of presenting the texts together with their mor phological analysis which would have meant to present them with an interlinear translation. But this idea turned out to be impractical because the later selected texts would then have covered at least 400 pages instead of 300, unless I would have limited the number of chosen texts. Finally I decided to give a more or less free sentence-by-sentence translation.

Translations can vary considerably. One extreme would be the strict following of the source text, where the syntactic form of the source language is maintained, and each and every idiom is literally translated. This sometimes results in inlogical sentences within the translation.

Translations can be a total adaptation to the target language with the result that e.g. speech units from the source language are no longer recognizable. The other extreme would be a summarizing translation.

I decided to give a sentence-by-sentence translation which gives the reader an idea of how the speech units are characterized and where repetitions are used. Thus the sentence-by-sentence translation into English was kept as close as possible to the Mandinka syntax, and rarely contains 'brightening ups', but is still presented in correct English. If any additions within the target language are proved necessary, they were then added in brackets. This manner of translation makes it possible for the reader to detect differences of style, for example between folk-tales and griot narrations, or the individual usage of certain expressions.

Phonaestetic adverbs (such as tep, kap, tumuj, usually simply meaning 'very'), interjections (e.g. ha', hee, hmm), exclamations like iyoo (expression of agreement or joy), etc.- all these expressions are neither translated nor marked. Most of these words carry their meaning through their 'sound' so that a 'translation' would be more detrimental than helpful to the understanding of the story.

IV. Annotations (is part of translation/often explains meanings)

Frequently occuring, culturally specific terms remain untranslated in the English text and are typed in italics. These terms are explained in an al phabetic glossary which precedes the presentation of the griot accounts.


j_li,"'mast er of the word'; specialist of oral history, genealogies and praise names of the Manding clans; member of an endogamous group within the nyamaala group; also used as a form of address for a jali",mŖaro,the first rulers of Kaabu (koorings and nyancis),m_nsa,"rule r, the office of mansa was inherited or achieved by victory in a battle; a mansa could only be recruited among the foros; also used as an address for a mansa",ng_naa

out standing, noble personality; hero, warrior; considered by griots as their most important givers

Extra textual factors are considered in the presentation, as long as they are relevant for the narration or the situation in which it was performed. Reactions of the audience, such as laughter or questions, are considered as a part of the narration because they could influence the development of the narrated events. Exchanges of greetings and technical problems (e.g. end of the cassette) are mentioned if they interrupt the narration. Also those parts of the griot accounts which do not contain any words, such as the solo parts of the instru mental accompaniment, are indicated.

All notes on extra textual factors are written on the right-hand side of the page together with the English translation. This also applies to particulars concerning the actual speaker of a given sentence. In this way, the left half of the page contains exclusively the text in Mandinka.

Each text is preceded by a short introduction about its content together with some data about the informant (name, place of origin, sex, age), place and date of recording as well as the RDD archives' number of the recording.

V. Selection of texts for publication

Due to limits of space and time, I had to select from the total body of collec ted texts. Therefore, I chose 28 folk-tales, 3 griot accounts and 6 songs. Whenever I chose a text for the publication, I previously discussed with my assistants, whether the text in question was a good choice for the publication. In agreement with the proposals of my assistants, the criteria for selecting a particular text were the following:

1. completeness of the text, lack of interruptions etc.

2. fluent, coherent interpretation, beauty of style

3. the topic covered by the text should be representative for the genre.

Examples taken from the planned publication "Mandinka Spoken Art. Folk-tales, Griot Accounts and Songs

Soona Mariyaama, by Mamakadang Fofana, f; recorded in Pakalibaa (Jaara), 3.4.1979; RDD archives, cass. No. 544.

A father wants to marry his own daughter, Soona Mariyaama. As this is not possible, mother and daughter make a plan, as to how Soona Mariyaama can escape from this situation. On her way to the mansa, she meets several animals who encourage her to run away from her father.

Ntaaling ntaaling.                           Ntaaling ntaaling.                           
Taaling diimaa.                              Aud.: A nice taaling.                        
Kee kiling ne sotota.                        There was one man.                           
A nying ding-musoo nyinyaata.                This daughter of his was beautiful.          
A ko a baa ye, m fango le be nying futuu     He said to her mother: "I myself will        
la.                                          marry her.                                   
Nying dingo m fango le be a futuu la, n te   This child, I myself will marry her, I       
a dii la kee la.                             will not give her to any man."               
Baa ko a ye, iyoo.                           The mother said to him: "Iyoo."              
Dingo menta, a ko, a be a bitindi la.        When the child had grown up, he said he      
                                             would marry her.                             
Baa ko a ye, iyoo.                           The mother said to him: "Iyoo."              
A ye bitoo lungo muta.                       He fixed the wedding day.                    
I ye tuuroolu ke i ye kuwolu bee ke.         They did the poundings and all the (other)   
Maanyoo-biti-lungo.                          The wedding day.                             
Bong ko saama a baa ko a dingo ye ko, i be   The next day the mother said to her child:   
meng ke la a ko a ye, saama ning fanoo       "What you will do," she told her,            
keta ...                                     "tomorrow after dawn...

Kelefaa Saane, by Alaji Sirifu Joobaate from Banii, m, 55 years, accompanied by Sirifu Joobaate from Farafenye, m, 35 years (playing of kooraa, praising, singing); recorded in Serekunda, 16.8.1994; RDD archives, cassette No. 4782-3.

S.J.jn. = Sirifu Joobaate junior

In the Mandinka society, Kelefaa Saane is one of the most famous heroes of Kaabu. Kaabu was a confederation of Mandinka states between the river Gambia in the north and the Rio Corobal in the south (now Guinea-Bissau). The jali reports about Kelefaa's participation in the conflict between Jookaaduu and Nyoomi in the mid nineteenth century.

Maaro, maaroolu woyee, dammaa-keelooye       S.J.jn.: Maaro, the maaros woyee, war only   
maaroolu bang ne.                            among themselves finished the maroos.        
                                             finished the maaros.                         
Bula-wo-bula Mambaa Saane, kati-wo-kati      Every (time to) enter (war,) "Mambaa Saane   
Mambaa Saane.                                (took the lead), "every (time to) break      
                                             (the war),  Mambaa Saane.                    
Teng-kili nganaa a ning Kanii Waali.         Call-the-oil-palm nganaa and Kanii Waali.    
Kang-Murumuru a ning Kang-Cundang.           Kang-Murumuru and Kang-Cundang.              
Nyaa-tu Fendaa ning dankumbaliyaa.           Fendaa with drunken eyes and not willing     
                                             to answer.                                   
Mariyaama Nanki ding Joolaa.                 Mariyaama Nanki's child, a Joolaa.           
Keloo ye maaroolu bang ne.                   S.J.jn .: War finished the maaros.           
Dammaa-keloo le ye maaroolu bang ne.         S.J.jn.: War only among themselves           
                                             finished the maaros.                         
Wolu mang bang, bari i turoo le doyaata.     They are not completely finished, but they   
                                             have few descendants.                        
Kacaalaalu be kacaa la jang bii, Alaaji      The speakers are talking here today,         
Sirifu Jeebaate, Badibu Banii.               Alaaji Sirifu Jeebaate, (from) Badibu        
A ning a doomaa, Sirifu Joobaatee ...        He and his younger brother, Sirifu           
                                             Jobaatee ...

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