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Impact of Covid-19: Griots recount challenges as restriction on gatherings relaxed

May 31, 2021, 11:40 AM | Article By: Sheriff Janko

From time immemorial, local griots also known in Mandinka parlance as ‘Jali’ have not only served as praise singers, but custodians of oral history. They belong to an important hierarchy in Mandinka social groupings just like smiths, metal workers and leather workers also known as‘Karanke’.

For many years, their trade has survived the taste of time. Up to this date they continue to be an important information bank when it comes to narrating family lineage. Their art is hereditary; meaning the trade is passed down from one generation to another.

However, the advent of the coronavirus pandemic has virtually interrupted many activities never seen before. Not only has it crippled global financial chains including tourism, trade, education, but also the global health sector. In a nutshell, it has changed the narrative of how we used to live and interact.

While many ceremonies such as christenings, weddings, funerals, social and even religious functions were restricted at some point to avoid further spread of the virus, these sad realities are evident of the severity of this deadly virus.

In this special feature, we assess how the restriction on social gatherings has affected female Griots in Kombo East.

Sireh Kanteh, a woman in her late 40s shared some of her challenges the impact has brought along, saying the experience she underwent during the height of restriction on gatherings leaves much to be desired.

For her like many others, she inherited the art as both parents are praise singers in their own rights.

“So, I am following the footsteps of my great-grand parents. Those who knew him, my grand-father used to be a great griot in the village just like my father. During those days, my father used to narrate our family history, but then I was very young.”

The art, she added, is a trade that is orally passed down from one generation to another.

“In other words, it is something that is found in blood. I’ve seen people practicing it especially those whose customs and traditions have no connection with it. So what about us who inherited the trade?”

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their profession especially at the time when restriction was enforced on social gatherings, she explained, will go down memory lane.

“We derive our living from this trade, so the coming of the deadly virus has brought untold sufferings to not only us but humanity in general. It affected me a lot as I stopped attending social gatherings as it used to be. Even sometimes to provide school lunch for my children is a challenge. Yes, before the restriction was placed on social gatherings, I used to make lot of money to take care of my family needs.

But that all changed when restriction was imposed on gatherings to curb the spread of the deadly virus.”

Another affected woman, who wants to remain anonymous, lamented similar challenges she and her family underwent.

She prayed that the virus totally disappears from the face of the earth, as it emergence has only brought untold sufferings to millions of families across the globe.

“Imagine, even congregation in mosque was restricted. And even when these restrictions were lifted people were mandated to wear facemasks and observe social distancing.”

Ebrima Kujabie, a member of council of elders at Kafuta village described the role of local griots as key in the development of any community. 

The coronavirus, he explained, has virtually affected everyone. The art, he explained, is something found within family. This, he said, is among reasons why government put restriction on social gatherings as a means to curb spread of the global virus.

“When government announced restriction on social gatherings, you will see that events like christening ceremony fewer people would gather to observe it.”

He emphasised their role as key in communities, acknowledging that another role they play is when there is important announcement to be made.

“People depend on them to disseminate key information. In addition, they also help a lot in brokering or mediating peace especially among families.

Our investigation, however, revealed that griots especially females across the country faced similar situation during restriction on social gatherings to curb the spread of corona virus.

Meanwhile, as restrictions on social gatherings get relaxed, many are hopeful and praying that life returns to normalcy.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Mai-Media and The Point

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