One Who Knows
One afternoon in Korhogo, while I was visiting a young scholar and friend of mine, I decided to ask him about his colleagues in town. I began by asking him who the other karamogos were in the community. I had thought this would be a straightforward question. I would normally translate the Dyula term karamogo as "scholar." In my conversations in Dyula until then, this is precisely how I had heard and used the word, without any difficulty in understanding or making myself understood. To my surprise, rather than supplying individual names, my friend began listing entire clan wards in town and in neighboring villages. "Surely," I interrupted, "these people don't all read, write and teach Arabic." "No," answered my friend, "most of them are quite ignorant. A karamogo is someone who prays five times a day, abstains from alcohol, fasts during Ramadan, etc. A person who teaches Arabic is called a lon-ni-baga. " Although this was the first time I had heard the expression, it way easy enough to understand. Lon is a transitive verb meaning "to know (something)"; ni is a suffix that transforms a verb into a noun; and a baga is an individual who typically performs an action or occupation. A lon-ni-baga is thus literally a "knowing-person," a "professional knower"; the expression is an apt Dyula translation of the Arabic word 'alim.
The confusion was not simply a question of which specific word or phrase is the appropriate Dyula translation of "scholar" or 'alim. At issue, rather, is the relationship between two different facets of the Dyula notion of scholarship: on one hand, the proper observance of Sunni strictures; on the other, the knowledge and ultimately the ability to teach
the reading and writing of Arabic. Indeed, the proper observance of the sunna already implies the possession of a considerable body of knowledge: of prayers in Arabic, of techniques for ablution, of forbidden and obligatory categories of action. Beyond this, many Dyula men, both now and in the past, had and have some knowledge of written Arabic, though the number of those with the acknowledged capacity to teach has always been relatively restricted. In one sense, all such individuals are knowledgeable, some more so than others. Though religious knowledge is obviously on a continuum, there has always been one means or another in Dyula for expressing the difference between those who pray correctly and those who also teach. Until relatively recently, it was broadly true that those who prayed were called mory , those who taught karamogo. While mory boys typically received some instruction in Arabic, teachers tended to come from only a few mory clan wards specialized in Arabic learning, the Diane of Koko quarter in Korhogo or the Haidara of Kadioha, for example. Although the term karamogo was applied most particularly to individuals who taught at an advanced level, it could also be used more loosely; for example, it is often said of members of clan wards specialized in study and teaching that "they are all karamogos ," although it is by no means literally the case that they are all teachers, even on a part-time basis.
The distinction my friend made between the terms karamogo and lon-ni-baga was thus quite comparable to the older distinction between mory and karamogo. Plausibly, as the term karamogo came to be used more and more loosely, a more specific term for "scholar" was required to take its place. Still, there are some important differences between this new contrast between karamogo and lon-ni-baga and the older contrast between mory and karamogo.Mory status was, it must be remembered, hereditary. A tun tigi who prayed five times a day, fasted during the entire month of Ramadan, abstained from alcohol, and otherwise observed the canons of piety with reasonable diligence, was still a tun tigi. When, after World War II, Dyula initiation societies were abandoned and
uniform standards of piety applied throughout the Dyula community, the mory / tun tigi distinction ceased to be socially salient. It is probably no accident that the scholar to whom I was talking is in fact of tun tigi descent. He cannot claim that he and his entire clan ward are mory , but, by calling them all karamogo , he can stress that they observe the old mory standards of piety. There are even more subtle differences between the older use of the term karamogo and the new expression lon-ni-baga. Although scholarship was never a hereditary monopoly, it was formerly the hereditary specialization of a restricted number of mory families within any community. The formal title of karamogo , conferring on its holder the right to teach advanced students, was bestowed by a special ritual of enturbanment (cf. Wilks 1968: 169). However, an individual's learning was only one of the factors taken into account in deciding whether and when he should be enturbaned. His age, and whether or not he was a member of a kin group with a hereditary specialization in scholarship, were also critically important. Senior men were, and still are, more readily enturbaned than younger men (who might well be more learned), particularly if the latter were not from families with a special reputation for scholarship. This was indeed the case of my friend who, at the age of about forty, was awarded the imamship of one of Korhogo's daily mosques, but who was still considered too young for enturbanment. Not surprisingly, by identifying himself as a lon-ni-baga , he was proposing a view of "scholarship" that stressed knowledge alone, without reference to age or social origins.
It would be misleading, of course, to assume on the basis of one conversation that seniority and social origins are no longer relevant to contemporary Dyula notions of "scholarship." Specialized clan wards still continue to produce scholars, though scholars from such wards do not necessarily enjoy an enhanced reputation as compared with their colleagues from nonscholarly families. Seniority is even more important for governing protocol among scholars, at least in certain contexts. Nevertheless, when I raised the issue of
scholarship, either with scholars or with ordinary individuals, the conversation almost inevitably turned to the question of "knowledge." Ultimately, a scholar should be judged in terms of what he knows. One lauds a scholar by saying that "he really knows things"; one disparages his reputation by insinuating that "he really doesn't know very much." For certain specific purposes, the seniority and social origins of scholars largely determine to which specific scholar Dyula will turn for services. These criteria are paramount in contexts where scholars are needed to perform a public role. In private contexts, however, such considerations are secondary, and individuals will seek out and follow the counsels of those scholars whom they believe "know" most.
The principle that one scholar "knows" more or less than another might seem relatively straightforward. In fact, any attempt to apply such a principle raises two fundamental and difficult questions: first, what exactly is meant by "knowledge"; and second, how is the "knowledge" of particular individuals assessed?
The kind of knowledge scholars possess falls into two distinct categories: bayani karamogoya and siru or siri karamogoya. Previously, I have glossed these domains as "theology" and "magic" respectively (Launay 1982: 39); with hindsight, I feel this is a crude and somewhat misleading translation. The knowledge of bayani karamogoya belongs essentially to the public domain; siru karamogoya is private and generally secret.Bayani karamogoya is connected with "education," both in a broad and a narrow sense, and specifically with the idea of kalan. Like all key words, kalan has a variety of distinct, if closely associated, meanings. It is almost certainly derived from the Arabic verb qar'a , "to recite," the root from which the name of the Qur'an is derived. The Manding word karamogo is thus a slight deformation of kalan mogo , a "kalan person, one who does kalan." Kalan means, in the first instance, "to read" or "to recite aloud from a written text." The notion of oral recitation and indeed of psalmody—Arabic texts all have associated melodies—was intimately connected
with the very idea of "reading" until very recently, when a very different paradigm of reading was introduced with Western schooling. Young boys were taught to recite texts aloud with accuracy well before—if ever—they learned their meaning. During certain ceremonies—the recitation of "salatu " at funerals, the recitation of the sura Ya Sin before moving into a new house—pages of a text will be distributed to all members of the audience capable of reciting, who will do so simultaneously. In this way, the entire book of salatu is "read" in a few minutes. Not surprisingly, kalan also means "to study," specifically by means of books; Western schooling is unambiguously classed as a form of kalan. A teacher, either of Arabic or in Western schools, is a kalan fa or karamogo fa , literally a "kalan father" or "karamogo father"; a pupil is, logically enough (and quite regardless of age), a kalan den , a "kalan child." Finally, kalan includes the extemporized sermons or homilies in the vernacular that are part of funerals and of calendar holidays, even though these "recitations" are only indirectly derived from books.
Bayani karamogoya is, in large measure, the practice of kalan in one form or another. It includes study in the Arabic language and in religious doctrine from the most elementary to the most advanced levels. Beyond the transmission of knowledge from teacher to pupil, bayani karamogoya involves its dissemination to the community at large, both in the form of sermons and as advice to individuals who seek clarification of specific issues. Undoubtedly the most important, although not the only, part of bayani karamogoya is knowledge of the proper performance of one's religious duties: what must or should one do, what mustn't or shouldn't one do, as a devout Muslim? It is a scholar's duty to convey this knowledge to all who seek it (and from time to time to some who don't). Such knowledge may be sought privately by individuals who want to know their religious obligations in specific circumstances—for example, to determine how much zakat they should distribute. Even so, such knowledge exists and is used for everyone's welfare. Siru karamogoya , on the other
hand, is knowledge applied to the pursuit of essentially private and this-worldly ends: health, wealth, power, success. Bayani karamogoya is essentially moral knowledge, siru karamogoya amoral; its test is whether or not it is ultimately efficacious. The ends it seeks to achieve may be legitimate or they may be reprehensible. Of course, a morally worthy scholar must refrain from ever using such knowledge for evil purposes, but it is generally recognized that unspecified individuals willingly use this knowledge to harm rather than to help. Siru karamogoya encompasses a variety of techniques: the manufacture of written amulets (sebe ); preparation of a mixture of ink and water (nasi ji ) from formulae washed off writing boards, which is subsequently ingested; determination of lucky and unlucky days for specific undertakings.
These two forms of knowledge also differ in the rules governing their transmission and in the ways in which scholars are rewarded for their services. The acquisition of bayani karamogoya is invariably tied to the context of the teacher/pupil (karamkoko fa / karamogo den) relationship. At any one time, a student has one and only one acknowledged teacher, whose pupil he remains until he has completed his course of study, however long this may take. This is true for elementary study, until the pupil has successfully "put down the Qur'an" (kurana jigi ), a process generally repeated several times if he wishes to pursue his studies; and with advanced study, ultimately leading to enturbanment. Students may seek a new teacher for advanced study, but otherwise the teacher/pupil relationship is an enduring—indeed lifelong—bond. The relationship is ultimately embodied in the isnad , the chain of learning, which the student receives upon his enturbanment, linking him to his teacher and his teacher's teacher, all the way back to the Prophet and then up the hierarchy of angels to God, the ultimate source of knowledge. In this way, bayani karamogoya is effectively conceptualized as a unitary body of knowledge. Individual scholars differ, not so much in the specifics of "what" they know, but in how well they have mastered it. By contrast, siru karamogoya is piecemeal knowledge. There are no acknowledged teachers
of such information. Individuals acquire bits of knowledge from whomever is willing to impart it, eclectically and unsystematically. Teachers of bayani karamogoya can and do transmit some of their knowledge of siru karamogoya to their pupils, although they are under no obligation to do so. It is a moral obligation to transmit knowledge of bayani karamogoya to all who seek it; knowledge of siru karamogoya can legitimately be withheld at one's discretion. Teachers and advanced students of bayani karamogoya are presumed to know a good deal of siru karamogoya. However, such knowledge is available to anyone with a reasonable mastery of written Arabic, and so individuals with mediocre teaching credentials or indeed none at all may have a reputation for being highly versed in siru karamogoya.
Ideally, and to a large extent in practice, bayani karamogoya does not involve fees for services. In Korhogo, it is increasingly the case that elementary Arabic language and religious instruction is dispensed in schools modeled after the formal state school system, with grade levels, classrooms, tuition fees, and (in principle) salaried instructors. This, it should be noted, is a very recent innovation, and does not apply at all to advanced study. Scholars also received a modest, but by no means negligible, fee for delivering funeral sermons. However, the income scholars derive from bayani karamogoya is largely in the form of gifts: from students and their families, from members of the audience at a sermon, from individuals who have benefited from their counsel, and in general from those who seek religious merit through pious donations. In other words, it is a religious obligation of scholars to impart such knowledge as a free gift to all who seek it, and an act of piety to reward this most valuable of gifts as best one can. Siru karamogoya , on the other hand, is involved in outright commercial transactions. One pays, not only for the services of the expert practitioner, but also for any specific bit of knowledge that one seeks to acquire. Such knowledge can also, of course, be transmitted as a free gift—from teacher to pupil, in particular—but such gifts are specific favors rather than a general moral obligation.
Bayani karamogoya and siru karamogoya thus have two distinct, if largely overlapping, sets of practitioners, as well as two distinct (though also overlapping) clienteles. Most obviously, bayani karamogoya is of interest to Muslims only (if one discounts anthropologists and their ilk); siru karamogoya is of service to anyone, Muslim or not, willing to pay for it. Precisely because siru karamogoya is essentially a private affair, the clientele of any particular practitioner is likely to be eclectic. Indeed, people may well prefer to consult practitioners with whom they have no other social ties. Thus one scholar, who practices bayani karamogoya for the most part in Korhogo, would from time to time tour southern Côte d'Ivoire selling amulets and remedies when he was short of cash. All in all, virtually anyone is a potential client, and it is both easier and more lucrative to develop a reputation outside rather than inside the local community. One's reputation in bayani karamogoya , on the other hand, is established first and foremost at home. For most purposes—delivering a funeral sermon, giving advice on religious matters, teaching one's children the rudiments of Arabic—any reasonably reputable scholar in the neighborhood is up to the task. Ultimately, scholars may develop a reputation in bayani karamogoya that goes beyond their own community. These are the scholars under whom advanced students seek to study. They may from time to time visit Korhogo, where they will be treated with more deference than most local scholars, and individuals may take advantage of the opportunity to solicit advice or to attend any sermons such a scholar may deliver. Such sermons are now available on cassette tapes, readily purchased in the local marketplace. Moreover, scholars from other communities who are not well known by name may also pass through Korhogo, delivering a sermon or two, which local residents may happen to attend. In short, because bayani karamogoya is a public affair, individual Dyula in Koko can easily compare their local scholars, not only one with another, but also with scholars from outside the community, both well known and unknown. By consulting scholars on religious matters and listening to their sermons, anyone in Koko has at least some
basis for assessing their knowledge of bayani karamogoya as compared to their colleagues'. Because of the very nature of siru karamogoya , this kind of comparison is impossible; individuals' reputations in this domain are effectively a matter of hearsay.
For both siru and bayani karamogoya , it can be said that one scholar "knows" more than another. However, the implications of such a statement are quite different for each domain in determining how scholars are perceived in their own community. Dyula from Koko will readily seek the services of a practitioner of siru karamogoya outside the community, but practitioners within the community will just as readily attract clients from elsewhere. For bayani karamogoya , people generally seek the services of a scholar from within their community. Consequently, a relatively limited number of local scholars are constantly being compared one with another.
It stands to reason that scholars themselves are the best qualified and most likely to make such comparisons. Collectively, they "know" more than ordinary individuals and are in a position to judge who amongst them "knows" more than whom. Indeed, this is an issue with which they must concern themselves, since a scholar's professional reputation rests on the perception that he "knows" more than his colleagues. One might well expect scholars to claim outright that they do "know" more than certain other colleagues, but this is not the case. On the contrary, scholars are particularly loath to rank themselves with respect to their peers, or even to compare other scholars one to another. This aversion to ranking is by no means a sign of a sense of corporate solidarity among scholars, but rather a function of proper norms of Muslim behavior, which the scholars themselves proclaim to their audiences. Both in sermons and in conversations, scholars constantly warn against yere fo and yere bonya (literally "to speak oneself" and "to aggrandize oneself"), the sins of pride and boasting. It is the essence of yere bonya to consider oneself better than one's neighbor, and the essence of yere fo to say so. Scholars are expected to set an example for the community, to practice what they preach. Boasting about how much they
"know" compared to others would thus endanger rather than enhance their reputations. For example, my friend who identified himself as a lon-ni-baga was quite unwilling to state outright that he "knew" more than any of his colleagues in Korhogo. He readily admitted that certain particular scholars had nothing to teach him—in other words, that they were not his superiors and implicitly his equals at best. In this way, he could insinuate that he had a limited respect for their scholarship, but this was as far as he would go in ranking them. Of course, his professionally imposed modesty did not prevent him from naming individuals whose scholarship was superior to his own. He named his own teacher, of course, a scholar well known in Korhogo but from outside the community and based in another town; within Korhogo, he specifically cited the imam, as well as the Diane clan ward, traditionally specialized in Islamic learning, as a whole. Even this list of intellectual superiors cannot be taken at face value. The reputation of the Diane as scholars in Koko was far more brilliant in the past than it is nowadays. Indeed, when I mentioned my friend's remarks to several Diane elders, they chuckled. With the professional modesty appropriate to scholars, they explained that my friend had learned the Qur'an from the Diane. Although he pursued his studies with a more illustrious scholar, the Diane remained his "teachers" for life. As their pupil, it was his duty to acknowledge them as his intellectual superiors. Plausibly, the imam was also named out of deference to his position rather than out of respect for his "knowledge." The imamship of Korhogo's Friday mosque is the property of one clan ward in Koko, shared with one of its "stranger" wards. Succession to the office of Friday imam is determined in much the same manner as succession to chieftainships or to headships of clan wards, in strict order of seniority. Women and worossos (individuals of slave status descended on both sides from slaves) are excluded. Among men of free status, seniority depends on one's generation and one's relative age within that generation. Of course, the imamship, unlike other offices, entails certain qualifications—namely, one must be an enturbaned
karamogo. The imam is always the senior recognized scholar in the two wards. Thus in 1984, the imam of Korhogo had first, second, and third assistants—the next three individuals in order of succession to the office. This system not only very efficiently precludes any factional strife over succession to the office, but also allows individuals with relatively modest reputations as scholars to accede. Indeed, the imam's reputation for "knowledge," voiced deferentially by my scholarly friend, was by no means universally echoed throughout the Dyula community of Koko. In short, scholars in Koko are precluded from disparaging their colleagues and enjoined to express deference to current and former teachers and to certain established senior scholars. In either case, while they can (and do) cast oblique aspersions on one another's competence, they cannot openly rank one another in terms of their "knowledge."
In a similar vein, scholars avoid openly confronting one another, and indeed engaging in polemics of almost any kind. This avoidance extends to written polemics. Koko's scholars do not attempt to justify their ideas, one way or another, in writing. Conceivably, this aversion to polemics is characteristic of the Suwarian tradition, which emphasizes the oral transmission of learning from teacher to pupil, the personalized bond whose ultimate expression is the isnad. Until the relatively recent introduction of public sermonizing—and indeed in large measure even now—the knowledge of scholars was transmitted privately and directly to those individuals who expressly sought it out, either as students on a regular basis, or occasionally in order to clarify a particular issue of concern. Discussion of religious issues, not only between scholars and laymen but even between scholars themselves, was inevitably tinged with a hierarchical component; one individual was always seeking clarification from another who, even if not one's teacher, was acknowledge to "know more."
These rules of discourse had a number of important consequences. First of all, the nature and perhaps even the content of religious discourse was highly context ridden; the
kind of explanation or justification given would depend on who was speaking to whom. "The Qur'an says this" or "According to hadith …," laymen would often be told, referring them, in general terms, to the authority of a text or body of texts. One scholar, speaking to a junior scholar or an advanced student, might be more specific, citing—literally reciting—a specific passage in Arabic (these texts, it should be noted, were committed to memory). In neither case was it possible to divorce the authority of the text from the authority of the scholar. Discourse was doubly authoritative, as it were. One could not challenge the authority of the statement without directly challenging the authority of the scholar, not only on this particular issue but in a general way. One could, of course, if one were unconvinced, consult some other scholar in private. However, this elaborate protocol served—and in many respects continues to serve—to keep certain religious issues outside the arena of public debate, not only spoken but written.
Even the practice of delivering public sermons has not fundamentally altered these rules. Whatever else the audience may expect from sermons, as we shall see later in this chapter, they are definitely not supposed to be "controversial." Only the Wahhabis, by directly challenging the authority of the scholars, have managed to force them into a polemical stance. This challenge ultimately played into the hands of the scholars, furnishing them with an argument against the Wahhabis. By refusing to accept the scholars' authority, the Wahhabis were effectively claiming to "know more" than karamogos past and present; by rejecting the Maliki mode of prayer, the Wahhabis implicitly dismissed, not only the Suwarian, but virtually all West African traditions of Islamic learning. Yet, individually, the Wahhabis were not necessarily very learned in Arabic. The Wahhabis might claim to possess a better understanding of the faith, but not a fuller knowledge of the texts. As we have seen, a younger generation of scholars trained in the Middle East can now make such a claim, but for the most part these scholars have astutely avoided openly challenging their Suwarian seniors. In spite of the real divergences of religious sensibilities, if not
points of view, which we have seen in chapters 4 and 5, virtually everyone in Koko appears—at least in public—to acknowledge the principles of seniority governing social interactions within the quarter, which maintain at least the apparent authority of the Suwarian scholars.
Of course, it is not because scholars avoid disputing one another in public, or even ranking one another in private, that laymen have no grounds for forming opinions about them. Indeed, laymen are free to express their opinions about the relative merits of particular scholars without exposing themselves to the criticism that they are guilty of yere fo or yere bonya , boasting or pride. The result is something of a paradox: while scholars are professionally qualified to judge who "knows" more then whom, only laymen will freely express opinions on the issue. Privately, laymen in Koko tended to judge local scholars rather harshly. No scholar from Koko, and indeed none from Korhogo town as a whole, enjoyed a reputation for bayani karamogoya that extended very far beyond the bounds of Korhogo and surrounding villages. They were compared unfavorably with scholars who had managed to establish a national reputation. Most such scholars were based in Abidjan or in prosperous towns to the south, such as Bouake, Daloa, or Gagnoa, but there were also a few who continued to practice in their home communities, small towns or even villages of northern or central Côte d'Ivoire. Compared to such scholars, local karamogos , I was told, did not really "know" very much. Even so, it was clear to virtually everyone that some local scholars knew more than others. No clear pattern emerged from individual statements of preference. Some scholars—the imam, for example—were rarely if ever cited by laymen as comparatively learned. Ties of kinship, clanship, and personal friendship on one hand, and factional rivalries within the community on the other, tended to predispose individuals for or against particular scholars, but though choices might be biased, they were hardly predetermined. Laymen were often quite critical of scholars to whom they were socially "close" and sometimes (more rarely) grudgingly admired scholars with whom they or their kin did not get along very well. But if laymen
readily venture opinions about how much or little any particular scholar really "knows," it is far more difficult to elicit the specific criteria by which they reach such conclusions. A layman's statement about how much a specific scholar "knows" is simply another way of saying how highly he respects him professionally.
Even if the criteria for making such judgments are hopelessly vague, one cannot conclude that such opinions are entirely arbitrary and capricious. Since a scholar's reputation for bayani karamogoya is a matter of concern in the public domain, individual laymen are aware of one another's opinions and take these into account. Even in the absence of clear consensus, a scholar's overall reputation can by no means be reduced to a series of isolated individual opinions. Indeed, the tendency of laymen in Koko to disparage local scholars is largely a reflection of scholars' national reputations, or at least their reputations outside their home communities. Implicitly, such reputations do take into account the judgments of other scholars as well as of laymen. The teacher/pupil relationship, specifically at the level of advanced study, serves as a rough index of such judgments. It is a striking fact that the teachers of scholars, not only in Koko but in Korhogo as a whole, virtually all come from and practice in other communities, particularly the towns in the south of Côte d'Ivoire. Scholars in Korhogo, however, do not generally attract such students, even from villages in northern Côte d'Ivoire. In other words, aspiring scholars will seek out the most learned scholars to whom to apprentice themselves, and it is no secret that they will not come to Korhogo for this purpose. Scholars who succeed in attracting advanced pupils are thus implicitly more learned than those who, like the local scholars of Koko, do not. There are, however, other ways in which the names and reputations of scholars from elsewhere come to the attention of laymen in Koko. Given the numbers of Dyula from Koko who have emigrated permanently or temporarily to other communities (Launay 1982: 97–101), such reputations spread easily by word of mouth. In any case, Dyula in Koko have always been aware of the reputations of
scholars in other communities, if on a rather more limited scale. At the other extreme, mass media and especially television have very recently become influential. There is a weekly program on national television that discusses Muslim religious issues, and the appearance of a scholar on the program immediately brings him to the attention of a national audience. Finally, tapes of scholars' sermons are readily available in marketplaces throughout Côte d'Ivoire, along with pirated tapes of popular music and tapes of local traditional music. Such tapes are of commercial value only if the scholar has a wide extra-local reputation. The commercial availability of a particular scholar's taped sermons is thus both an index of his national reputation and a means of expanding it. While tapes of sermons by scholars from Koko circulate privately in Korhogo, there is no market for them—proof, if it were needed, that they have no national reputation.
Nationally known scholars thus constitute one yardstick for measuring how much local scholars do or do not "know." Some of these nationally known scholars are personally familiar to various individuals in or from Korhogo, and indeed they visit Korhogo from time to time. It confers considerable prestige on a family to invite such a scholar to deliver a funeral sermon, but such prestige is an expensive luxury. This is not to say that such a scholar necessarily charges highly for his services, in the literal sense of the word; scholars are not supposed to "charge" for bayani karamogoya at all. However, to invite such a scholar without receiving him lavishly would expose one to ridicule and would be utterly self-defeating. Only the wealthiest and most politically ambitious members of the community are willing to go to such lengths, and even so, they hardly stand to lose face when, as is usually the case, they resort to the services of a local scholar.
Funeral sermons are nowadays the most public way in which individuals use the services of scholars. A sermon is virtually obligatory at the funeral of any reasonably senior member of the community, man or woman. There is no hard and fast rule for determining exactly how old a person must be to merit a sermon. Anyone with grown children or who
has reached about age fifty qualifies, though younger individuals with kinsmen who can afford the expense are often thus commemorated. Generally, these sermons are delivered on the fortieth day after the burial. Additional sermons may also be given on the first, third, or seventh days after burial, or one year afterward. Alternatively, two or more different scholars may give sermons on successive nights. Again, there is no hard and fast rule, but the more senior and prominent the deceased, the more elaborate the commemoration tends to be. Wealthy members of the community may vie for prestige either by arranging sermons for deceased close junior kinsmen or by underwriting elaborate ceremonies for prestigious elders with whom they have had close ties, but who were more distantly related.
At one level, then, funeral sermons, as part of funeral ceremonies in general, serve to express both the status of the deceased and of those, be they close kin, distant kin, or "patrons," responsible for financing the arrangements. For scholars, on the other hand, sermons represent the primary occasion where they can both convey and display their specialized knowledge to the public at large. Of course, it would be both unnecessarily cynical and patently unfair to suggest that scholars are exclusively concerned on such occasions with projecting an image of knowledgeability. A scholar's life is by no means an easy or indeed an assured path to financial success, and those who choose it do so from deeply religious motives and not for venial reasons. A scholar's first concern in his sermons is indeed to convey proper ideals of Muslim conduct to his audience. However, a scholar can only convey such a message if he finds people to listen, and if he is taken seriously. Consequently, he must compete for this respect in an arena occupied first and foremost by his local colleagues. Thus sermons provide the means, not only for scholars to inform the lay public about Islam, but also for laymen to judge the performance, and by implication the "knowledge," of different scholars.
The task is made somewhat easier in that for the lay public, sermons represent a form of entertainment as well as of in-
struction. They are major social gatherings, events that break the routine of everyday life. Refreshments, in certain cases lavish ones, are distributed to the audience. Most of all, the sermon itself is a performance, a deliberately staged occurrence, with its own definite aesthetics. Although attendance is sometimes a social obligation, many laymen enjoy listening to sermons, not only when they are delivered but also on cassette recordings. It is not unusual at all to find as many as six or seven cassette recorders taping any particular sermon in Koko. As mentioned above, taped sermons by local scholars are not sold in the marketplace, but they are stored in numerous personal libraries and freely lent out to interested listeners. It is impossible unambiguously to distinguish the value of such tapes as entertainment from their value as a means of religious instruction for pious laymen. For example, one friend of mine would regularly purchase such a tape to play in his car as he was driving to the capital, much, he commented, as his son would purchase a tape of current "pop" music. The tape constituted a welcome distraction from the tedium of a long drive, with the added bonus that it was morally edifying. This is not to say that the medium had effectively replaced the message. Rather, for pious Muslims, sermons are the most worthwhile form of entertainment because of the valuable "knowledge" they contain.
Most scholars are consequently eager to deliver sermons, not only at funerals but on any other occasion. This includes certain dates in the Muslim annual calendar, notably donba (Arabic mawlud ), kurubi den (Arabic laylat-al-saghir ) and kurubi ba (Arabic laylat-al-kabir ). As we have seen, there was even an attempt to introduce sermons as a part of wedding ceremonies. Of course, scholars are free to deliver sermons whenever they please, or on no particular occasion at all. However, there are good reasons why most local scholars avoid doing so. Since no one is obliged to attend, they have no assurance of a large audience, and would stand to lose face if turnout were small. A scholar invited to deliver a sermon not only receives some sort of fee but also attracts pious donations of saraka from members of the audience; such donations may be
far from negligible if different groups and individuals attempt to outdo one another in public displays of generosity and piety. If, however, the sermon is delivered on no special occasion, there is no recognized incentive for ostentation on the part of the audience, and the scholar risks leaving empty-handed for his pains. Consequently, uninvited sermons tend to be delivered by scholars from outside the community. An unknown scholar passing through risks nothing but his time, since he has no prior local reputation to maintain or enhance. A nationally known scholar on a visit to Korhogo may also deliver an uninvited sermon, but this is an "event" of some note, and he can count on a heavy turnout and consequently a more generous audience. There was only one partial exception to this rule. This was a Hausa scholar, born in Burkina Faso and with close family ties to a Hausa family established in Koko since the early twentieth century. This man would regularly spend much of the year in Koko, when he would often deliver uninvited sermons in the evening outside the main mosque. The turnout tended to be modest, though large enough to attract notice and avoid ridicule. However, the audience consisted mostly of young men and women, unmarried or recently married, who tended to be considered more pious and in general more "serious" than their age mates. Elders, who are supposed to have more serious business, rarely attended. Members of the audience were seldom in a financial position to be generous. Even if they were, they were too young to engage appropriately in ostentatious displays of generosity, the behavior one expects from "elders" rather than from "children." In short, this scholar had one foot—but only one—in the Koko community; for example, he was never to my knowledge invited to deliver funeral sermons in Koko. His sermons at the mosque were thus a means, though not a directly remunerative one, of maintaining an active presence in the community, though this presence was still largely that of an outsider.
Since local scholars rely essentially on invitations to deliver sermons, the question of how scholars are ultimately
chosen for specific occasions is critical. Technically, the individuals responsible for the funeral arrangements are free to choose any scholar they please. However, while no individual scholar is certain of being automatically selected on any particular occasion, choices tend to be quite constrained, and the outcome is rarely a surprise. As mentioned in chapter 6, there are two pools of scholars in Koko, each with its separate constituency. These constituencies consist of entire clan wards; each clan ward usually resorts to the services of scholars in one or the other pool. Within each pool, a number of other factors enter into the consideration. On one hand, scholars never deliver sermons at the funerals of their close kin. On the other hand, there is a preference for scholars with more distant ties of kinship to the deceased, particularly but not exclusively a member of the deceased's own clan ward. Not atypically among the Dyula, questions of seniority are even more important than the nature of the scholar's kinship to the deceased. Paradoxically, norms of seniority as they are applied to sermonizing are ambivalent. On one hand, seniors should take precedence over juniors. On the other hand, senior elders ought ideally to avoid engaging in strenuous activities that their juniors should perform on their behalf. Delivering sermons is strenuous, so that in principle the oldest and most senior scholars should refrain from giving them, although middle-aged scholars ought to be preferred over younger ones and "free" scholars (horon ) over worossos of slave status. It should be remembered, however, that funeral sermons are a relatively recent phenomenon among the Dyula of Koko. The eldest generation of scholars, people like the current imam, were never very actively involved in sermonizing, while scholars who are now middle-aged were the first to take the initiative and have always been active in this domain. In a sense, it is very convenient for senior scholars who were never very good at sermons to argue that they are too old now for that sort of thing. The problem is rather that middle-aged scholars seem quite reluctant to renounce their prerogatives of seniority now that they are approaching
fuller elderhood, particularly as these are precisely the individuals most in demand and for whom sermons are consequently the most financially rewarding. For the time being, senior scholars in each pool expect to be offered the first opportunity, passing on the request to their juniors only if they cannot for one reason or another preside. If, for example, two sermons are held the same evening, they are likely to accept the one that can be expected to attract a larger audience and leave the other to their junior.
This protocol, while it constrains choice, is not a hard and fast rule. In any case, the funerals of important elders—which are precisely those with the largest audiences, and where scholars receive the most lavish prestations—frequently involve the delivery of two or even more sermons on different nights. In such cases, it is perfectly possible to invite the senior scholar in one's habitual pool on one occasion and a more junior scholar whom one prefers personally and/or whom one considers actually more "knowledgeable," or even a scholar from outside the pool entirely, on another. The protocol is fairly consistently respected in this way, but outright lapses do occur, and they inevitably incur resentment. For example, on the occasion of the fortieth-day ceremonies held for the mother of one scholar, his colleague, the senior scholar in his pool, cut short a visit to southern Côte d'Ivoire in order to return to Korhogo to deliver the sermon. To his chagrin, he found that yet a third scholar had been invited in his stead. This third scholar, a native of a nearby Dyula village, was established elsewhere in Korhogo. Since the Dyula of Koko maintain close ties with Dyula in all the villages of the region, he was personally quite well known in Koko. However, his regular clientele hailed from outside Koko quarter, where he rarely preached. Dyula of Koko were admittedly familiar with his sermons, not to mention his overall reputation as a scholar, since they are frequently invited to funerals in other parts of town or in neighboring villages, where he more usually preaches. For a while, the incident caused considerable bitterness, and the scholar who had been passed over complained quite openly about what he felt
to be a public and unprovoked rebuff. He was able to save face to some extent because he had also been invited to deliver a sermon that same night in another part of town, though this was a much smaller (and certainly less lucrative) affair. He had originally intended to pass on this second commission to a junior scholar in his pool, but in the end the junior scholar was left without any sermon to deliver.
Given this protocol, the frequency with which individuals are invited to deliver sermons in Koko is not a reliable indication of their overall reputation for "knowledge." This is not to say that the personal preferences and opinions of groups and individuals responsible for specific invitations are absolutely irrelevant. If they have strong feelings, they may attempt to bend the rules or manipulate the situation in such a way that they can invite the scholar they really want. However, unless they are deliberately seeking to express their displeasure with a particular scholar, they must proceed with tact or else run the risk of inadvertently giving offense. Funeral sermons are in any case a frequent event, and though scholars from outside are rarely invited to deliver them in Koko, it is not unusual for scholars from Koko to be invited to other parts of town where social networks are more fluid and where protocol is less an issue, as well as to villages nearby, where the reputations of scholars from town may eclipse those of their village colleagues much as the reputations of nationally known scholars eclipse those of Koko's scholars. Similarly, the social networks of laymen in Koko, particularly of elders whose opinion in such matters counts most, extend well beyond the confines of the quarter, so that they are frequently invited to funerals elsewhere. In this way, quite apart from their knowledge of sermons on tape, laymen from Koko have ample opportunity to attend and to judge sermons by all local scholars, even those more junior scholars who are less frequently invited to deliver them in Koko, and to compare them to sermons delivered by village scholars, as well as scholars based elsewhere in town.
Scholars are well aware that their sermons are compared with those of their colleagues, and that laymen's reactions
affect not only their overall reputations but more directly the likelihood that they will receive subsequent invitations, either from other neighborhoods in town or even, despite protocol, from Koko itself. After all, one may decline to invite a scholar both because he is too junior or because he is too senior. Ultimately, rules of protocol apply only in choosing between scholars with reputations as "regulars"—those who are routinely associated with delivering sermons in Koko. I knew many individual scholars who, it was widely acknowledged, were qualified to deliver sermons, but who were rarely, if ever, invited to do so. One, for example, had the unenviable reputation of putting any audience to sleep.
Crucial as the sermons are in determining a scholar's reputation, the task of delivering a successful one is difficult indeed. This is precisely because of the dual nature of sermons, as a form of entertainment and as a means of edification. A scholar thus needs to accomplish two quite different, and sometimes conflicting, goals: to hold his audience's attention, and to convey an image of "knowledgeability." (The sermons, it should be noted, although falling under the rubric of kalan— which includes the activities of "reading," "recitation," and "study"—are always freely extemporized.) This is in sharp contrast to the khutba the imam recites in Arabic from a book of collected homilies as part of the midday Friday prayers. No one, to my knowledge, ever pays much, if any, attention to khutba. Sermons do not necessarily, or even usually, have a single set subject. Not surprisingly, funeral sermons often dwell on the afterlife and specifically on the subject of kiyama lon , the day of judgment. This generally entails a discussion of various things Muslims must or must not do in order to avoid a prolonged or, worse, permanent sojourn in the fires of hell (jahanama ). In any case, since virtually all human actions will fall under divine scrutiny, this gives scholars wide latitude to dwell on whatever they please, and either to touch on a few subjects in detail or to embark on a grand tour of human failings. Although catalogues of do's and don'ts of various kinds, ranging from lists of mortal sins to those of impurities that render water ritually
unfit for ablutions, are included in virtually every sermon, scholars are free to touch on any topic having to do with Islam in one way or another. The sermons are subjected to constant interruptions. This is far less the case now than in the past, when they sometimes lasted all night. Nowadays, members of the audience are anxious that they end before midnight, partly out of increased concern over bands of armed thugs (and overzealous policemen out looking for armed thugs), partly because more and more individuals hold salaried jobs and must report to work the next morning. Even so, at any moment, either the scholar himself or any member of the audience with sufficient learning may break out into chanting pious songs in Arabic or, occasionally, in Dyula. The scholar himself is likely to choose to chant when he has exhausted a particular train of thought, thus allowing himself the time to decide what he will discuss next. On the other hand, chanting by members of the audience generally interrupts the flow of the sermon. After any such interruption, the scholar may either pick up the discussion where he left off, or embark on a new subject. I suspect that scholars frequently embark upon the second course because, taken by surprise, they have lost track themselves. As a result of such interruptions, scholars frequently begin to discuss one subject and suddenly go off on a tangent, returning to the original subject if and when they remember what it is and where they left off. The scholar must always appear in total command of the situation, ready to continue with a steady flow of discourse until the next interruption. At times, to keep up appearances, scholars will repeat themselves or alternatively seem to lose the entire logical thread of their own argument until they can pick up some—any—other such thread and keep the sermon flowing. In short, they must be prepared from time to time to sacrifice coherence for eloquence and, above all, poise.
Needless to say, sermons cannot simultaneously be incoherent, entertaining, and edifying. Given the mode of presentation, the various parts of a sermon rarely if ever fit together as a unified whole. However, even the most patient
and sympathetic of audiences will lose interest if they cannot follow what the scholar is talking about at any given time, and neither are they likely to be impressed in such cases with a scholar's "knowledge." One way in which scholars frequently deal with this problem is to introduce narratives into their sermons. On one hand, a story constitutes a readymade guide for the scholar. Once the story is begun, the plot line determines what comes next. The scholar does not have to make the choice for himself, much less remember his own prior decision in the face of constant interruptions. As long as he can remember where he left off after any given interruption, he can easily continue without much reflection. Moreover, a good story, well told, immediately enhances the sermon as entertainment. A scholar who happens to be a good storyteller possesses a quasi-infallible device for maintaining the attention of his audience. Indeed, because of the interruptions, he can always conveniently launch into a story at almost any point in the sermon, either because he feels he is in danger of losing his audience or simply because he is not quite sure what he wants to say next.
Stories give coherence and entertainment value to sermons, but it is not always equally clear that they are very edifying. Parables are an obvious solution to this dilemma. They simultaneously contain a clear moral lesson and permit the scholar to display his skills as a storyteller. The problem with parables is that, like jokes, the best ones tend to be short and to the point. They provide scholars with only a brief respite from their problems of deciding what comes next and of how to keep their audience awake and alert. Longer stories not only solve such problems more effectively, they also hold the audience's attention over a longer period of time. Indeed, one scholar makes a regular practice of telling stories about patriarchs and prophets: Nuhu (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Sulaiman (Solomon), Isa (Jesus), and so on. Such stories can turn into virtual theatrical performances, as the scholar impersonates one character after another. In some cases, clear moral messages are embodied in these incidents from the lives of the prophets, as, for example, in Ibrahim's destruction of the idols. However, I also heard sermons that told of
incidents where the behavior of the central character was far from above reproach: Ya'qub's (Jacob's) theft of his brother's blessing through trickery; Dauda's (David's) adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. In each case, the scholar still proceeded to draw a moral at the end of the story. Ya'qub's story was interpreted as a demonstration of the importance of being a dutiful child in order to obtain the powerful blessings of one's family elders; Sulaiman, Bathsheba's son, was God's favorite among all of Dauda's children, showing that one cannot predict which of a man's wives will bear the most worthy children. Unlike parables, these morals hardly followed very obviously from the story itself. In fact, such morals seem to function as a pretext, an additional justification for the story's inclusion in the sermon.
Narratives are not the only means of making a sermon as entertaining as possible. Scholars often include deliberate humor in their sermons. This can be combined with storytelling when a scholar impersonates one character or another. Characters, even prophets, can be turned into temporary laughingstocks, as, for example, when an old and blind Ishaq (Isaac) slowly comes to the realization that he has been tricked into bestowing his best blessing on the wrong son. It is also possible for a scholar to use similar impersonations outside the context of a narrative. One scholar would lapse into pidgin French for comic effect in order to imitate the sinful ways of urban sophisticates: a prospective client trying to attract the attentions of a prostitute, or a thief caught red-handed with stolen goods. The most unlikely subjects in sermons may serve as the subjects of jokes. One scholar, after a very long list of substances that do or do not render water impure for ritual purposes, concluded by admonishing the audience with mock seriousness that they should never leave it lying around unattended; what if dogs or little children were to piss in it? (I should add, lest I be accused of reading humor into sermons where it is not intended, that the entire audience broke out in laughter.)
However, the use of such rhetorical devices as humor or dramatic narrative in sermons is not without its dangers for the scholars. Dyula scholars face very much the same kind of
predicament as university lecturers. On one hand, if they remain completely serious, they run the risk of boring their audience and losing its attention. On the other hand, if they try to hold everyone's attention by entertaining them in one way or another, they can be accused of pandering to their audience. Speaking of one scholar's apparent popularity as a sermonizer, a layman commented to me, "A kuma ka di" ("His speech is pleasing"). In context, the comment was hardly intended as a compliment, but rather meant to suggest that this scholar was eloquent but superficial; it might be entertaining to listen to him speak, but one didn't really learn much of value from his sermons. Sermons are ultimately supposed to edify their audience, to remind Muslims of their duties. As one layman explained it to me, these duties are extremely complex, and scholars are presumably better aware of their precise nature than laymen. It is the layman's duty to seek out as complete a knowledge of these obligations as he can. Attending sermons for this specific purpose is consequently morally praiseworthy, quite like voluntary and disinterested charitable donations. It is indeed (and scholars often make this point specifically at the outset or close of a sermon) an action God will reward in the next world, and conceivably in this world as well. However, it should be the scholar's task to convey, in one sense or another, something the layman does not already "know." Strictly speaking, such knowledge is not the specific subject of the sermon, since sermons tend not to have specific subjects as such. Rather, sermons should first of all convey the sense that the scholar does "know" more than his lay audience, and second that some of his knowledge is effectively being transmitted in one way or another during the sermon. It is easier for a scholar to convey such an impression if he is speaking in a serious tone than if he is making jokes or telling stories, however entertaining. On the contrary, the more entertaining the sermon, the more it may cast doubts about the overall seriousness of the scholar himself. The most obvious way scholars can display their specialized "knowledge" is by lacing their sermons with words or phrases in Arabic, which can then be glossed in Dyula. It is,
after all, the scholar's superior knowledge of the Arabic language and of texts in Arabic that constitutes the basis of his superior "knowledge" of religious matters in general. All scholars must employ this serious tone during much of their sermons. It is rather the extent to which they also employ such devices as humor and narrative, temporarily leaving this serious tone aside, that varies. Some scholars tend to avoid humor and narrative in their sermons altogether, while others switch back and forth fairly consistently between tones of discourse in order to hold their audiences. But it must not be imagined that a serious tone alone automatically conveys the impression of superior "knowledge." An individual can just as easily be categorized as a pedant and a bore. Laymen are not averse to commenting that some scholars are rarely invited to give sermons because they consistently put their audiences to sleep. If a scholar's reliance on humor and narrative exposes him to the criticism that his sermons are "merely" entertaining, a scholar who maintains a consistently serious tone may simply be labeled pretentious, someone who tries to convey the impression that he "knows" more than he really does and only succeeds in spoiling the audience's evening.
Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that local scholars are rarely if ever entirely successful in keeping their audiences both entertained and impressed with their "knowledge." However, it would be far too hasty to conclude that local scholars are ultimately failures at their task. Their problems stem in large measure from their situation, which is not unlike the situation of Koko quarter as a whole. On one hand, Koko is a tightly knit community, structured largely along "traditional" lines, where everyone knows everyone else and where questions of seniority govern rules of protocol. On the other hand, Koko is part and parcel of a modern town, the largest in northern Côte d'Ivoire, with many of its members currently resident in the capital or in other large towns in all walks of life, from menial positions to the upper echelons in the civil service. Individuals live simultaneously in two very distinct social universes: the quarter itself, on one
hand, and the town and indeed the nation as a whole on the other. Each universe has its own rules of behavior, its own criteria of "success," but while individuals may participate more actively in one or the other, they all belong to both. This dual universe affects the relationship of local scholars to their clienteles in important ways. On one hand, within Koko, the position of individual scholars depends partly on seniority, partly on the number and strength of the social ties of various kinds that they succeed in developing or maintaining. Within, and sometimes in spite of, the constraints imposed by rules of protocol, these ties can be mobilized to procure invitations to deliver sermons, provided that the individual scholar is recognized as reasonably competent at the task. However, though sermons can be fairly lucrative, they do not of themselves constitute a sufficient living for any scholar. For more purely personal questions, individuals are free to consult any scholar they choose. Indeed, the most prosperous individuals from Koko are likely to be living in other parts of the country, if not in the capital, where they can readily and conveniently consult other scholars. It is only for occasions such as funerals, when they are in any case obliged to return to Koko, that they will necessarily resort to the services of local scholars. On the other hand, precisely because Koko is part of a larger town, individuals in other neighborhoods may use the services of scholars from Koko, either for sermons or for personal business. However, as far as personal consultations are concerned, scholars in Koko compete with scholars based elsewhere in town, not only for clients in the town at large, but even for clients from Koko itself.
Until well into the twentieth century, Koko was, to cite one colonial scholar, "le veritable centre islamique" of Korhogo (Marty 1922: 172). This is hardly to say that Koko was ever an Islamic isolate. It is quite possible to identify the names of scholars from elsewhere who settled in Korhogo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; more important, both scholars and laymen in Koko were aware of the reputations of scholars living and teaching in other communities. Still, the scholars of Koko enjoyed a quasi-monopoly, not
only over scholarship in the quarter, but in the town as a whole. Under such conditions, one's seniority, one's family origins, one's personal network of ties of kinship, friendship, and clientship, were all at least as important as one's reputation for learning. Like all of Koko's other monopolies, this is now a thing of the past. Moreover, new modes of communication have elevated certain scholars to the level of "stars," either on television or on cassette tapes for sale in the marketplace, while modern transportation makes it easy for such "stars" to visit towns like Korhogo, or alternatively for lay individuals from Korhogo to seek out such scholars in search of help and advice. On one hand, local scholars are individuals of a given age, generation, clan affiliation, free or slave status, with personal ties to different individuals in Koko; on the other hand, they also aspire to prominent reputations in the town and region as a whole, and ultimately—if not very successfully—to national "star" status. In the first instance, their success depends partly on accidents of birth, but their skill in handling face-to-face interactions within a small community is more important; in the second instance, success depends on conveying an image of "knowledgeability" to both laymen and scholars, while at the same time maintaining a presence that attracts and maintains the attention of relative strangers as well as of kinsmen and neighbors. In the first instance, the arena of competition is restricted, and success, while by no means easy or assured, is well within the reach of a number of individual scholars from Koko; in the second instance, the field of competition is wide open, with proportionately very few aspirants ever attaining anything approaching "star" status. By managing personal relationships within the community, a local scholar can at least assure himself a modest living, but even in Koko his reputation ultimately depends in part on the extent to which his performance measures up to that of a "star."
The predicament of scholars in Koko is in no sense unique. Modern advances in communications and transportation, the flow of migrants back and forth between different communities, affect individuals all throughout Côte d'Ivoire, though
not always to the same degree. Local communities everywhere are drawn in myriad ways into the national and international orbit, without necessarily losing all sense of local identity and cohesiveness. Face-to-face multi-stranded relationships remain the principal way in which most scholars interact with their current and prospective clienteles, while at the same time the national reputations of a few scholars is ever more widely diffused as a different and ever more important standard for judging scholars' performances. Yet precisely because Koko is simultaneously a "traditional" community and a part of town, the tension between these two standards is felt particularly acutely by local scholars and their audiences. For this reason, however much their audiences credit them with "knowing," they never seem to "know" quite enough.