The sacrificial meal was an appropriate expression of the antique ideal of religious life, not merely because it was a social act in which the god and his worshipers were conceived as partaking together, but because … the very act of eating and drinking with a man was a symbol and a confirmation of fellowship and mutual social obligations.
W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites
Those Dyula friends of mine who are fluent in French consistently translate the word saraka as "sacrifice." I have always found this translation puzzling. The words sound somewhat alike, as if a vague homophony could make up for the vagueness of the synonymy. The idea of "sacrifice," in a religious context, conjures up the image of an offering—typically, though not exclusively, a blood offering—to a spirit or deity. Dyula are quite familiar with blood sacrifices. They used to be offered by tun tigi as part of lo society ritual. They remain an integral feature of the religious life of those of their Senufo neighbors—the majority, especially in the villages—who are still "pagans." Dyula scholars lace their sermons with stock stories from the Islamic repertoire about "idolatry": Ibrahim's destruction of the idols; the wooden statue that miraculously speaks only to ridicule its worshipers and to acknowledge its impotence. By telling these stories, the scholars are somewhat complacently preaching to the convinced. The issue of idolatry is one of the least controversial among Dyula Muslims in Koko. To the extent that such practices effectively distinguish "pagans" from "Muslims," the audience can be reassured that, ever since the tun tigi have renounced them, they are all unambiguously "Muslim."
There is, of course, one obvious context where "blood sacrifice" is specifically associated with Islamic behavior. This is the annual slaughter of a ram during tabaski , the Great 'Id. The event commemorates Ibrahim's (Abraham's) sacrifice of a ram instead of his son. It seems to me, however, that Dyula downplay this specifically "sacrificial" aspect of the tabaski celebration. Of course, since the ram's throat is cut in the name of God, the slaughter is, in a real sense, a sacrifice—but this is true of all animals slaughtered for their meat, and is hardly specific to the occasion. To the extent that Dyula—even in villages, and much more so in towns like Korhogo—typically obtain meat from professional butchers, such slaughter usually takes place away from the public eye. However, animals are publicly slaughtered during life-crisis rituals; most specifically, cattle are invariably butchered during wedding ceremonies. The bloodiness of the proceedings is bound to make a greater impression on European or American spectators who are not accustomed to witnessing the slaughter of animals than on Africans, for whom such events are hardly spectacular. The significance of slaughtering animals in God's name among the Dyula is inextricably tied to the fact that they are and have always been Muslims living amongst unbelievers. Only this kind of slaughter turns a live animal into edible food; animals who have died or been killed any other way are jufaa. Unbelievers, unlike Muslims, are willing to eat jufaa , even animals who have died naturally. The very fact that unbelievers who will willingly and knowingly eat unslaughtered animals also offer blood sacrifices to spirits contributes crucially to Dyula inclinations to distinguish the idea of "slaughter" from that of "blood sacrifice," rather than assimilating them.
If the slaughter of rams remains the pivotal moment of tabaski , this is rather because the act links two very different aspects, two dissimilar foci, of the celebration. The first focus is on the act of collective worship at the Friday mosque. It is on this occasion, and that of the Lesser 'Id marking the end of Ramadan, that all the Muslims of Korhogo are enjoined to worship together. Unlike at Friday prayer, the women come
too, though they must pray separately, just outside the precincts of the mosque. Men and women alike dress as splendidly as possible. Prayer is an active celebration of the unity of the Muslim community of Korhogo as a whole, on both sides of the stream. But tabaski does not simply celebrate Ibrahim's sacrifice; it celebrates the hajj , the pilgrimage to Mecca. On this day, the pilgrims in Mecca will slaughter a ram to mark the culmination of their pilgrimage. On this occasion, Dyula are reminded very directly of all of their family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are performing the hajj. It is of them, and not of Ibrahim, that they invariably speak. Through the pilgrims, worshipers in Koko are linked to Mecca, and ultimately to the community of Muslims throughout the entire world.
When the prayer is over, Muslims stream home, in different directions, to slaughter their rams. This act, accomplished in Koko as it is in Mecca and throughout Muslim communities around the world, is the culminating celebration of the unity of the global Muslim community. But the act of killing the animal, in and of itself, is not the center of everyone's attention but, on the contrary, a cue for a real shift in the emphasis of the festivities. Slaughtering the ram is straightforward. It is, on the contrary, its butchering that takes on significance, the cutting up and division of the meat. People keep for themselves only a relatively small portion of a sheep they kill. They are preoccupied, rather, with deciding to whom they will give meat, how much, and from which part of the animal. Kin of one sort or another, especially within the clan ward, are the primary recipients. As one would expect, the protocol of seniority informs, if it does not entirely govern, the distribution of meat: for instance, one's elder brother ought to receive a hind leg, one's younger brother a foreleg; the kabila tigi , the senior person and head of the entire clan ward, must be given a relatively choice portion. Ties of friendship, as well as kinship, can be acknowledged by gifts of meat. As a result, all throughout the afternoon, children scurry back and forth throughout Koko carrying gifts of raw meat—often no more than a few morsels—from one person to another.
In this way, the slaughter of a sheep links Dyula Muslims in Koko with the global community of Muslims throughout the world, with Mecca, with pilgrims (especially from Koko) performing the hajj in any particular year, and finally with kinsmen and friends within the local community. It is the one occasion where the salience of membership in the global community and of membership in the local community are expressed more or less simultaneously. But it is only at the moment of slaughter that these two poles, the global and the local, come together for an instant. The collective prayer that leads up to the slaughter, as well as the elaborate division of the carcass that follows, each belong symbolically to one pole or the other. Rather than focus their attention on the moment of slaughter, as if to affirm the ultimate and transcendent identity of the "global" and the "local," Dyula pay more attention to the "before" and the "after," separating the global from the local in terms of context—different times, different places, sharply different moments of the same occasion.
In any case, saraka— "sacrifice"(?)—has nothing whatsoever to do with blood offerings. Rather, the word is the Dyula pronunciation of the Arabic term sadaqa , which "in the widest sense means a pious or charitable act; … in Muhammadan law it means a gift made with the object of obtaining merit in the eyes of God" (Fyzee 1964: 259). Saraka is a pious gift, as distinct from an ordinary gift (son). Saraka is also distinguished from jaka (Arabic zakat ), the portion of one's wealth that every Muslim must, as a religious obligation, distribute to the poor each year. Individuals distribute jaka on one specific day, of their own choosing, each year. On this day, they will be visited by those in the community who consider themselves needy, in the expectation of receiving a portion of the alms, which are distributed as the donor sees fit. Failure to offer jaka is a serious breach of religious obligations; one friend went as far as to assert that such failure invalidated whatever religious merit one might accumulate through prayer and even the hajj. By way of contrast, saraka is in no way a religious obligation, even though it constitutes a religious act.
Saraka might be translated as "alms," "charity," a free-will gift, rather than as "sacrifice." Such a translation is certainly more consistent with the standard texts of fiqh , but it comes no closer to exhausting the range of meanings saraka assumes, not only in the religious life, but also in the everyday life, of most Dyula in Koko. Saraka , as we have seen, is an integral part of life-crisis rituals—naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals—where its distribution is governed by an elaborate protocol that symbolically stresses the salience of age, gender, generation, free or slave status, kin group, and local community membership, as well as specific social ties between various participants. In addition, as we shall see, saraka can be offered for ends that are strictly this-worldly, and that seemingly have little to do with piety. All in all, saraka is an extremely complex notion. It invariably entails giving something to someone, but the different kinds, and above all the different contexts, of such prestations are more striking than any overall similarities. Saraka can be an individual and essentially private affair or a collective and highly public one. It is its very applicability in so many contexts—individual and collective, global and local—that makes it a key concept in Islamic practice among the Dyula of Koko.
Not surprisingly, some of the uses to which the notion of saraka is put have aroused the hostility of reformers. The Wahhabis argue that saraka is exclusively intended to be a charitable donation; as such, its use in life-crisis rituals, where recipients are not necessarily in any need of charity, is inappropriate. Moreover, Wahhabis disapprove of practices that might be called "magic," which most certainly includes prestations of saraka for purely this-worldly ends. The younger generation of reformers associated with the AEEMCI have been more circumspect in their criticism. They warn against excessive spending for life-crisis rituals, but who is to decide how much is "too much"? They inveigh against "charlatans," against "marabouts"—clerics—who prey on the credulous by selling spurious remedies. However, such invective can be construed in different ways. Skeptics may hold that all forms of "magic" are fraudulent, and
that all clerics who dabble in such practices are blameworthy. However, individuals may be firmly convinced of the efficacy of "magic" and yet doubt the claims of certain practitioners. In other words, everyone agrees that charlatans are wicked. The problem is whether or not all practitioners of "magic" are frauds, and, if not, to know whose claims are genuine, and which ones are cheats. Younger scholars trained in the Middle East, along with certain—perhaps not all—of their followers probably disapprove of many of the ways in which saraka is offered. However, for the time being, this disapproval has been voiced in a sufficiently ambiguous manner, avoiding any confrontation over the issue, either with Suwarian scholars or with the laymen who resort to their services. As a result, saraka , in both public and private contexts, remains a common feature of everyday life in Koko.
The multifarious nature of saraka makes the concept ambiguous, even to Dyula scholars. Normally, as we have seen, the knowledge of karamogos can be classed relatively straight-forwardly as siru karamogoya , "secret" knowledge to further private ends, or bayani karamogoya , "public" knowledge of religious obligations. Knowledge of written charms, of astrology, of lucky and unlucky days is clearly siru karamogoya. Knowledge of the proper techniques of prayer, of inheritance, the fast, the payment of jaka—fiqh , in short, but also hadith, tafsir , and so on—are all bayani karamogoya. Knowledge of saraka does not fit neatly or entirely into either category; it is, scholars told me, both siru and bayani karamogoya. It is not difficult to appreciate that gifts that are, in principle, pious donations fall within the purview of bayani karamogoya. The question is how such gifts also serve purely personal and this-worldly ends; how, in other words, they resemble the written magic charms whose production typifies the practice of siru karamogoya.
The use of written charms (sebe ) is extremely common in Islamic "magic," not only in West Africa but throughout the Muslim world. There are countless different formulas, though they all tend to correspond to a few general patterns. Their contents may include short suras from the Qur'an,
laudatory prayers, names of angels or prophets, or even numbers arranged in the form of magic squares. Generally, the form of presentation as well as the content is fixed, most often in a simple geometric pattern of one kind or another. The patterns are quite simple, but the possible variations are virtually infinite, and both the form and the content of a particular formula must be reproduced exactly in order for it to be efficacious. Such formulas can be written on a piece of paper and, if necessary, sewn into a small leather pouch and attached to clothing, worn as a necklace, bracelet, or anklet, placed in a house (sometimes inside a wall, or under a door or roof, to protect one from intruders), and so forth. The formula may also be written on a wooden writing board and washed off with water, which is subsequently ingested or used for bathing or anointing a specific part of the body. Such formulas may even be written on leaves used as medication; the leaves are then boiled and the herbal infusion used as medication in whatever manner prescribed.
These formulas are not the monopoly of established scholars. On the contrary, most individuals with a rudimentary knowledge of reading and writing Arabic have their own private collections. Some formulas are readily sold or transmitted as favors from one individual to another, although others are closely guarded secrets. (One Dyula joke consists in asking someone if he has a magic formula for intelligence. The point of the joke is that he will invariably say no; anyone who possessed such a formula would obviously be too smart to let on!) Of course, one must not only know the formula, but also the specific rules for its use. Some formulas can be used for a variety of ends, while others—generally the most powerful and esoteric—have extremely specific purposes. This specificity accounts, in principle, for the seemingly infinite variety of formulas. As one karamogo explained, there are as many formulas as there are things that humans wish for, and human desires are boundless. Since knowledge of these formulas is transmitted piecemeal, one can never be sure who possesses the formula corresponding to one's precise needs, though
obviously certain individuals, particularly but not exclusively established karamogos , enjoy a reputation for possessing a wide variety.
The question remains: why and how do these formulas work? One scholar's explanation is particularly suggestive. These formulas, he related, are essentially praises of God, of angels, and/or of prophets. Their work can be compared to that of jeliba , or griots. (Although griots are not indigenous to the Korhogo region, numbers of them have established residence in the modern town, and others visit the town and the surrounding region from time to time, where, it should be added, they are often considered a nuisance and of doubtful Islamic morality.) It is the griot's work to sing one's praises, and one is obliged to reward such praises appropriately; you have to give him money, even if you don't really want to. The praises embodied in written formulas work in the same way. If delivered properly, they place angels and prophets, if not God, under a moral obligation to come to one's assistance, interceding with God on one's behalf. In this scholar's view, the formulas use the idiom of reciprocity in order to create a moral obligation, if not with God, at least with privileged intermediaries. As with griots, this use of the idiom of reciprocity is morally ambivalent; in effect, it is a very thinly disguised form of coercion. With griots, and a fortiori with formulas, this coercion is never absolute. One who receives praise is never literally forced to reciprocate; moreover, if the praise is inappropriate or improperly delivered, the obligation is virtually nil. However, such praise, in the proper form, constrains if it does not absolutely coerce the recipient. God's will is obviously beyond the powers of human coercion, and so one can never be absolutely certain that formulas—or any other technique for imploring God's favor—will work. Nevertheless, these formulas attempt to manipulate the situation by seeking to create a relationship of moral reciprocity that works to the individual's advantage.
If the principle of reciprocity is implicit in the use of written charms, its significance might seem all the more apparent
in the use of saraka. Nevertheless, the logic of giving is complicated by the fact that individuals use saraka as a means of communicating with God. Saraka is offered to God, and not, technically speaking, to any human recipient. Of course, the material possessions that constitute the offering, whatever they may be, must be delivered from one person to another. The problem is that it is doubly impossible for anyone to offer anything to God. In the first place, God is immaterial and consequently cannot literally "accept" a gift. Even more important, the material universe, God's creation, is already His; humans have, in this respect, literally nothing to offer. Saraka is not quite a gift to God, but it is not either, in an ordinary sense, a gift from one individual to another. An ordinary gift both symbolizes and serves to create or to perpetuate mutual obligations between persons or groups. Saraka does no such thing. Its human recipient is under no obligation to its donor; indeed, one must specify, when making such an offering, that it is indeed saraka , and no ordinary gift. The recipient need not even offer thanks, other than the standard blessing in such contexts, "Allah saraka mina" ("May God accept [literally, "catch"] the saraka ").
In short, the reciprocity involved in saraka is somewhat skewed; one gives certain items to an individual in the expectation that God will grant some specific favor in return. It is no business of the human recipient to learn what the donor seeks; God knows, in any case. As a general rule, the more important the favor one seeks from God, the more valuable the offering is likely to be, though there need be no strict correspondence, if indeed such a correspondence were even literally possible. The value of the gift may be negligible—small change, a few kola nuts—or it may be considerable—a cow, an embroidered gown. The problem, as with other forms of imploring God's assistance, is the knowledge of what specific offering is appropriate for any specific purpose. As with written formulas, ordinary individuals have their own recipes, and need not always seek the advice of a specialist before making an offering. One lay friend of mine cited a tripartite division of offerings into white, red, and black objects. White
offerings—a white chicken, white kola nuts, a white gown, a white cap, white sandals—were appropriate when one wanted to procure something desirable, in seeking good fortune. Red offerings, conversely, are intended as a way of avoiding or casting off misfortune; black offerings correspond to situations of uncertainty, where one is in doubt about an outcome and its consequences. He added that it was not always easy to find someone willing to accept a red offering. Such offerings are dangerous; the misfortune may be transferred in the process from the donor to the recipient. Such offerings are frequently made to a blind person, who cannot see what he is receiving, and is in any case rarely in a position to refuse what he is offered. Such a procedure is perhaps a little (but only a little) less cynical than it might seem. The Dyula consider blindness one of the worst possible afflictions, much worse than deafness, for example. The deaf are often surprisingly well integrated into the social fabric, whereas the blind are in important respects marginalized. The deaf, unlike the blind, can work at all sorts of tasks. A blind person has little choice but to accept the food he is offered; one can, my friend commented, put poison in a blind man's food right in front of his nose and he will not notice. The problem is not really, of course, that people go about systematically poisoning the blind. Rather, blindness reduces the afflicted to total dependence on those around them. At best, they depend entirely on the charity of their kin; at worst, reduced to the status of beggars, on the charity of strangers. The misery of the blind is so great that a little more or less misfortune will not make much difference, whereas even a dangerous gift is likely to be appreciated. God is hardly likely to inflict further punishment unless it is in any case richly deserved. Although the blind may be the ideal recipients of such dangerous gifts, they are not always readily available. Another possibility is to try to fob the offering off on an unknown passer-by, someone to whom one can conveniently transfer misfortune without breaching any fundamental social obligation. Finally, and certainly most ethically, one can offer the red saraka to a scholar. Scholars know
the proper techniques for averting any misfortune that such a gift might attract.
Such recipes are still relatively simplistic, and do not stipulate the precise nature of the offering. As one might expect, scholars are presumed to possess a more complete knowledge of saraka , and may stipulate not only the precise nature of the gift, but also the right category of recipient (e.g., a scholar, an elder, a blind person, a poor person, a stranger) although never his specific identity. They may stipulate, not only the color of the offering, but also the kind of material out of which it is made (iron, cloth, straw, etc.), the quantity, or whatever. The specifications are sometimes quite precise—say, a black hen with two white feathers—making the offering hard to procure, even if it is not valuable in and of itself. The kinds of objects prescribed tend to be limited—food, clothing, animals, household objects, money—but the possible variations and permutations are infinite. However, a scholar's advice on such matters is not free. Individuals may choose to decide on their own, either because the matter is relatively unimportant, because it is too urgent to wait, or simply as a first attempt; if such an attempt does not meet with success, a scholar can always be consulted later.
While one can decide for oneself what one wishes to obtain or to avoid, God may indicate the occasion for offering saraka directly by sending dreams. Dreams are considered to be messages sent directly by God to ordinary humans, and as such are taken very seriously. They may indicate events that are to take place in the future, but for better or for worse, these events are not inevitable. Good fortune predicted in dreams will not necessarily occur unless the beneficiary offers saraka ; an offering of saraka can also avert predicted misfortune. Often, the events in the dream do not actually concern the dreamer, but rather a third party, and it is the dreamer's moral responsibility to convey the message to the person or persons whom it directly concerns. As an example, a local politician pointed to his Mercedes. A friend of his had seen the car in his possession in a dream at a time when the
politician was out of favor and generally down on his luck. Such a tangible sign of prosperity was hardly a foregone conclusion, but the politician offered saraka and, lo and behold, the prediction came true. To underscore the point, he related yet another dream, in which a minister of state escaped from a plane accident where someone else was killed. The dreamer did not succeed in contacting the minister right away. A few days later, the minister's chauffeur was killed in an automobile crash. As the second example shows, the predictions in a dream need not be accurate in precise detail. As a result, it is hardly unlikely that many predictions from dreams will, in one way or another, be "verified" sooner or later, as the dream is reinterpreted ex post facto to fit the events it purportedly was intended to foretell. The circularity of the system is even tighter: if proper saraka is not offered, the predicted good fortune will not come to pass. (Even if saraka of one sort or another is offered, it may not be appropriate.) On the other hand, misfortune may be avoided through saraka. One way or the other, conventional wisdom dictates that such dreams ought not be taken lightly.
Even if the meaning of a dream is unclear, it may induce individuals to make an offering. One morning, as I was passing by the house of a friend, he pulled me aside and invited me to look into his bedroom, where I was treated to the sight of seven church candles, all lit and arranged on the bedroom floor as if (my friend explained) in front of an altar in a Catholic church. Having deliberately excited my curiosity, he proceeded to relate that he had dreamt of the burning candles in his bedroom the night before, and interpreted the dream as an injunction from God that he was to make precisely this kind of offering. He had no idea what kind of good luck this might be intended to bring, or what kind of evil it might ward off. He was obviously rather amused by the very unconventionality of the act, my own presence conveniently adding to the apparent incongruity of the whole situation. Nevertheless, he took the injunction quite seriously; one does not trifle with God's commands. For good measure, he also
slaughtered a goat in his front yard, distributing the meat as saraka to assorted elders and, since I was present, to me—non-Muslims are perfectly eligible to receive saraka.
These uses of saraka have nothing to do with piety; their ends are purely this-worldly. Such practices—one might argue the practices of siru karamogoya in general—treat God rather like a political superior, to whom praises (written formulas) or gifts (saraka ) may be offered in the hope of receiving some special favor or another. As with an important chief, it is crucial to know how, exactly, to approach Him. This is precisely what scholars claim to know better than ordinary laymen, although scholars cannot lay claim to any monopoly of such knowledge. This knowledge is essentially amoral. Maraboutage , in Ivoirian French, amounts to nothing less than sorcery, the deliberate use of Islamic magic to harm others. Such sorcery is no doubt associated more with written charms than with saraka. I do not know whether saraka may be offered with the deliberate intention of causing injury, but we have seen that certain offerings may place the recipient in danger, and that donors are sometimes prepared to resort to rather unscrupulous strategies in order to find someone willing to accept them.
The morality of such practices depends on the nature of the ends desired and means employed. It should be stressed that, for virtually all Dyula, wealth and material possessions are legitimate ends in themselves. Unlike their Senufo neighbors, among whom "it is not good to be too ill, nor is it good to be too well, too poor or too rich, nor even too 'normal'" (Sindzingre 1985: 55), Dyula hold that one cannot have too much of a good thing, provided that one's gains are licitly and honestly acquired. Material well-being is both desired and respected in itself. Dyula allude disparagingly to those Senufo whose wealth is only apparent on the occasion of their funerals, but who, during their lifetimes, ate, dressed and were housed as poorly as any of their neighbors. Indeed, the very profession of scholarship itself among the Dyula suffered from the general equation of prestige with prosperity. As one friend pointed out, scholarship these days affords
most of its practitioners a scant living, hardly making it an attractive career for the most able or intelligent. No doubt, this situation contributes to the ambivalent attitude of Koko's residents to their scholars. Arguably, "learning" is valued more highly than the learned.
Of course, the licitness, indeed the desirability, of material prosperity and of well-being in general does not automatically justify the use of saraka as a means of attaining it. Indeed, I was told (admittedly by one of their staunch opponents, and not necessarily a reliable source) that some Wahhabis reject all resort to "medicine"—be it "traditional," Islamic, or "Western"; illness and health, riches and poverty are manifestations of God's will, to which the pious believer should submit, and which he or she should certainly not attempt—impiously—to manipulate. Such a position is indeed extreme, and implies a uniform and inflexible standard of piety as the only legitimate model of the relationship between God and His worshipers. For Dyula "neotraditionalists," we have seen that standards of piety are more flexible. While a single universal standard exists in principle, the degree to which individuals are expected to live up to that standard depends on whether they are male or female, juniors or elders, of slave or free origin, scholars or laymen. The same kind of flexibility applies to the use of saraka for personal ends. Such practices do not call into question the principle that God rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked, nor that one's fortunes in this world, for better or for worse, are manifestations of His unquestionable will. However, this does not preclude attempts to establish an alternative mode of relationship with God, one based on reciprocity, even between oneself and one who is, in the final analysis, infinitely one's superior.
So far, we have opposed the use many Dyula make of saraka as a technique to obtain this-worldly ends with the practice of saraka as a pious donation. It must certainly not be imagined that such pious donations are unknown among the Dyula, and that saraka is always self-interested in the narrowest sense of the world. Otherwise, saraka would have nothing
to do with bayani karamogoya , but only with siru karamogoya. Individuals do offer donations out of considerations of piety: alms to beggars, gifts to scholars, contributions for building or maintaining a mosque. Such gifts, unlike those whose primary purpose is curing an illness, passing an exam, finding a job, or obtaining a Mercedes Benz, bring merit to the giver. Yet this kind of gift is not entirely disinterested. Its purpose is explicitly, like the kinds of saraka undertaken for this-worldly aims, to obtain a reward from God. As one scholar explained to me, precisely because God is just, He rewards all acts of virtue, in the next life if not in this world, just as He punishes all wickedness. Of course, all acts of charity are rewarded, but not all such acts—quite apart from jaka , a religious obligation—necessarily constitute saraka. A gift is saraka if and only if it is specified as such; it is, in other words, the intention of the gift that counts. Whether to obtain merit or to obtain some more specific and mundane benefit, saraka attempts to establish a moral relationship of one sort or another between an individual and God through the medium of a gift to a third party.
Saraka , it might seem, is essentially of concern to the individual and to God; the eventual (human) recipient or recipients of the gift appear of almost incidental importance. Yet we have already mentioned a form of saraka that in no way fits such a pattern: the public, indeed ostentatious, distribution of saraka during life-crisis rituals—naming ceremonies, weddings, and especially funerals. Such saraka is offered, not by individuals, but by collectivities. Typically, the core of such a group is constituted by a clan ward (kabila ), or sometimes a section (gba ) of a large clan ward, the group to which the newborn, the bride or groom, or the deceased belongs. However, contributions come from the kindreds of the individuals concerned, from relatives in other groups. Saraka is offered on behalf of a baby, a couple, or a corpse, by their relatives, those most directly concerned with their welfare. It is received, in turn, not by individuals per se but by representatives of various communities, groups, and social catego-
ries. Not infrequently, those who give in one capacity receive in another. Precisely because these occasions are so standardized, the attention of many participants focuses on the (apparently, but only apparently) minor variations: who gives how much to whom in what order. Such variations serve as a symbolic medium whereby groups and individuals may make claims about social relationships that have little, it would seem, to do with religion.
The religious component to such ceremonial distributions is expressed most tangibly by the uttering of blessings (duau ) from those who have received saraka. In this instance, the blessings are not directed at the givers of saraka , but, more appropriately, to the newborn, the married couple, or the deceased. Symbolically, these blessings are uttered by the entire local community, each component part of which must be represented by at least one individual. These individuals will be offered saraka , not in their own capacities, but in the name of the collectivity they represent: for example, Cisseraka, "the people of Cissera [the Cisse clan ward of Koko]"; Waranieneka, "the people of Waraniene [a largely Dyula village a few kilometers from Korhogo]." The blessings, consequently, are symbolically offered by whole groups rather than by individuals acting in their own capacity. Ultimately, the ceremony enacts, in a dramatic form, the entire local community's concern with the critical events of the lives of its members.
But what is "the entire community"? In a sense, the answer is circular: the community is the aggregate of all those groups and categories represented in the ceremony. The community is in any case broader than Koko itself. Any such ceremony in Koko will involve representatives from "across the stream" in Korhogo, as well as from a host of Dyula villages and village quarters from the general vicinity, and sometimes from well beyond. From ceremony to ceremony, the "community" symbolized, though broadly similar, is rarely if ever exactly identical. Specific villages may only be "concerned" with events in the lives of particular individuals
or, more usually, kin groups, from Koko; obviously, specific ceremonies reflect the particular networks of groups and individuals in Koko. While the list of villages "represented" may differ from occasion to occasion, no ceremony ever takes place without a significant number of neighboring villages sending delegates, and the villages of Korhogo's immediate periphery—Kapele, Waraniene, Katia, Dyendana, to name a few—are almost invariably involved.
This variability does not only concern the "environment" of which Koko is a part, but even Koko itself. As mentioned before, the "Senufo" quarters of Koko—Tiembaraso, the neighborhood of the "Tiembara," the dominant group of Korhogo chiefdom; "Sonoso," the quarter of the Fodonon-speaking minority; as well as the quarters of "casted" artisans, Fonoso (the blacksmiths), Lokhonso (the brass casters), Kuleso (the woodcarvers)—are not necessarily invited. Ultimately, the ceremony does not just passively reflect the composition of the community. Rather, it constitutes an active recreation, a symbolic reconstitution, of the whole in terms of its constituent parts.
These ceremonies can be categorized in two apparently contradictory ways: while they may serve as a symbolic expression of the local community's collective concern for individual members, they are also characterized by a spirit of competitiveness and serve as a forum for the particular agendas of specific individuals and groups. Prestations are made publicly and ostentatiously; everyone can see who gives and how much. "Who," in these cases, is almost never an individual, except for politicians from "across the stream." Usually, saraka is offered by a group of some sort or other. In the days before the ceremony, such groups caucus, pooling their resources. The leading members attempt to induce as many others as they can to contribute as much as possible, and decisions are made about who will receive how much and in what order. How much such a group contributes is, in large measure, a statement about its wealth and its influence as a whole. However, this influence and prestige devolves particularly on its leaders, those whose effectiveness in holding the
group together, as demonstrated by their capacity to persuade members to contribute as much as possible, is put to the test on each occasion. Indeed, groups and individuals compete, not only for prestige, but also by making implicit claims over dependent kinsmen and clients, those on whose behalf they bestow largesse. One might argue that the unity of the community, as symbolically expressed by the act of blessing, is only an "ideal," but, if so, why isn't the violation of that ideal, embodied in the thinly disguised competitiveness of the proceedings, considered inappropriate by most of the participants? More cynically, the affirmation of the community's unity might be portrayed as a "mask," an "ideological" denial of the competition lurking beneath the surface—but, if so, the mask is rather transparent.
On the contrary, there is no necessary contradiction between these two facets of the ceremony. It is precisely the nature and the existence of the local community that give meaning to the rivalries expressed in the course of the ceremony. In the first place, the local community is, both really and metaphorically, the audience. Even more important, the ceremony is about the status—in more ways than one—of its participants within the community at large. "Status" in one sense can be interpreted as prestige, as the respect individuals command within the local community. In another, but equally relevant, sense, "status" has to do with the nature of rights and obligations between various categories of persons. The respective "statuses" of groups and individuals, one way or the other, depend on the relevance—or the irrelevance—of such factors as kin-group membership, "caste," ethnicity, age, generation, and gender. The local community is the arena in which such issues are thrashed out, if not resolved. Indeed, as we have seen, the "community" cannot simply be taken for granted. The position of individuals within the "community" depends on the way in which the community itself is constituted. The symbolic identity of the community, expressed most powerfully through the act of collective blessing, does not deny the reality of competition among its members. On the contrary, it makes such competition not
only possible but meaningful, by providing the framework where it takes place.
Even if we ignore the hidden agendas underlying the distribution of saraka in all these instances, the logic of exchange remains a complex one. Saraka is being offered, not by individuals on their own behalf, but rather by collectivities on behalf of specific members. God is being implored to ensure the well-being of a child, the success of a marriage, the salvation of a dead person. The plea comes from the kin group to which the individual belongs, and beyond that group to his or her kindred as a whole, and sometimes beyond, to all who in one way or another have a crucial "interest" in the person—patrons, clients, teacher, apprentices, friends, political allies. The local community as a whole, as symbolized by its representatives, witnesses this expression of collective concern, collectively accepts the offering on God's behalf, and in turn bestows its own blessing. In this manner, the relationship between God and the individual or individuals on behalf of whom the ceremony is performed is mediated, directly and dramatically, by a cluster of social relationships, of agnation, cognation and affinity, of seniority and dependence, of patronage and clientship, which situate the individual within the local community at large.
In a sense, one might oppose "private" and "public" saraka. Offerings individuals make to others for very specific, this-worldly ends, while they are not necessarily secret, are nobody else's business—not even the recipient's. Collective offerings for the general well-being of individuals are, quite literally, everybody's business. Of course, the pious offerings individuals may make in order to accumulate merit are not unambiguously public or private. In one sense, the offerings are self-interested; they ultimately ought to benefit the giver. On the other hand, the gifts themselves normally are of some benefit—symbolic if not real—to the general community: alms to the poor, gifts to scholars, support for the mosque, for example. Nothing intrinsically dictates the degree of publicity or secrecy accompanying the act of offering, but there is certainly no reason to conceal such gifts and
often advantage in making such an offering ostentatiously. In fact, life-crisis rituals provide an ideal forum, not only for the collective and virtually obligatory offering of saraka , but also for conspicuous pious donations, particularly to scholars, who are invariably present on such occasions. Broadly speaking, individuals are expected to give in keeping with their prosperity and their influence. Such offerings may be expressions of piety, but, as we have seen with respect to the Sufi brotherhoods, piety is itself a social construct and has as much to do with social expectations as with the qualities of individuals.
In any case, the public/private dichotomy is too crude, opposing the isolated individual in one instance to the community at large in the other. Yet individuals are members of Koko community as a whole only by virtue of their membership in specific kin groups, in localized, named clan wards (kabilas). These clan wards constitute yet another arena for the offering of saraka. At first sight, these instances seem to short-circuit the very logic of the gift; they are offered by the kin group to itself on its own behalf. The saraka invariably takes the form of a meal, of cooked food, of which all members of the kin group who are present in Koko must partake. The meal commemorates the collective ancestors of the group, and is, in a real sense, offered to them as well as to God. The ancestors are, in this particular context, intermediaries between their collective descendants and God.
I witnessed such collective meals on a few occasions, both in Koko and in the village of Kadioha. In principle, I was told, such saraka ought to be offered on a regular basis, once a year for example. Not surprisingly, actual practice is far more variable. The circumstances in which one such meal I attended in 1985 was offered are instructive. The meal was offered by the largest kabila in Koko. Not surprisingly, given its size, it included several quite prosperous members, as well as numbers of others who were relatively well-off. Moreover, it happens to enjoy proprietary rights over the office of imam for the town mosque. Because of these various factors, the kabila is quite influential in Koko as a whole. However, these
same factors—size, wealth, and influence—foster jealousy, backbiting and factionalism, pitting not only other kabilas against them as a whole, but different members of the kabila against one another. This was the situation when they received an urgent message from one of their members in Abidjan, the capital. Apparently, the imam of one of the main mosques in the capital had dreamt of the ancestor of this very kabila in Koko. In the dream, the ancestor deplored the factional strife besetting his descendants, and explained that this was because the kabila had let the practice of offering communal meals of saraka lapse. They were instructed to offer such a meal as soon as possible, and to continue the practice regularly, in order to restore harmony within the group and ensure its prosperity. Strikingly, the imam in question is in no way related to the kabila , and is not even from the region of Korhogo. He has no direct, and not even a remote, interest in the affairs of the group, and the fact that the dream was experienced by an individual so geographically and social distant was held as proof positive of the urgency and validity of the message. As a result, the message was promptly heeded, and the members of the kabila were, at least for the time being, quite determined to resume the practice. A few days later, I attended another such meal, offered this time by one particular segment (gba ) of the kabila. The logic dictating that one may petition the ancestors for the unity and prosperity of the kabila as a whole also suggests that one may legitimately do so on behalf of any particular segment. I was told that this had been the past practice of that particular segment, and that its members had been inspired by the kabila's meal to resurrect their own ceremony too.
In one sense, this kind of saraka is "public." The meals are consumed in the open, for everyone to see. Yet from another point of view, it is "private," of concern to no one outside the kin group sharing the ritual meal. Like the distribution of saraka during life crises, the ritual is collective, but the relationship between the offering and the collectivities involved is radically different. Saraka during life crises involves an offering from one collectivity to another of a different order. These collectivities are not fully predetermined, but to a certain ex-
tent defined, recreated, by the very occasion. One collectivity is the "kindred" of the individual on whose behalf the rite is performed; however, such links are not defined exclusively in genealogical terms, but rather in terms of the nature and depth of relationships. Those who offer saraka on one's behalf are those who are in one way or another concerned with the events of one's life, if not as kin, then as "hosts" or "strangers," patrons or clients, masters or apprentices, teachers or pupils. The act of contributing, and to some extent the amount offered, is a symbolic statement about the existence, the nature, and indeed the strength of the relationship. The rough outlines of such an ad hoc group are predictable on any occasion, but its precise form is a priori indeterminate. The same applies, as mentioned, to the "community" whose representatives receive the offering. If the local community is more or less the same on every occasion, its boundaries are constantly subject to shifting and even the nature of its constituent units may change over time. Admittedly, the same can be said of kabilas , of kin groups in general. However, the issue of what constitutes a kabila , or one of its segments, tends to be given symbolic expression during life-crisis rituals, in much the same manner as the wider "community." On the other hand, when saraka consists of a communal meal offered by a kin group to its members, living and dead, the nature and to a large extent the contours of the group are largely taken for granted. Saraka does not, in this instance, define the group, but rather seeks to maintain, if not to restore, its unity.
All in all, it is possible to identify at least four meanings of saraka in Koko:
1. A pious donation, conferring religious merit on the believer
2. A ritualized offering, for the purposes of attaining a specific, this-worldly benefit
3. The ceremonial distribution of food and/or money to the community at large in terms of its specified component parts, on behalf of specific individuals on the occasion of life crises
4. A ceremonial meal prepared and consumed by members of a specific kin group in order to promote or maintain harmony within the group and general prosperity
Saraka strikes us, in other words, by reason of its polyvalence. It is precisely this polyvalence that Wahhabis and other reformers find objectionable. For such reformers, saraka ought to be a category of action that falls within the purview of a universal moral code, an action that is meritorious without being obligatory for all believers. The vast majority of Dyula in Koko, those who perform saraka in a variety of contexts for a variety of ends, do not deny this aspect of saraka , but also acknowledge a very different aspect, involving the act of communicating with God. It is in this way that the translation of saraka as "sacrifice" makes sense; the act of offering is the means of establishing communication with the deity. Saraka is a way of asking God for "well-being," but "well-being," like saraka itself, means not one but many things. It is the material well-being of individuals, not only health and long life for themselves and their dependents, but material possessions, worldly success, even political power. It is also their spiritual well-being, particularly in the next life, when all sins will be punished and good actions rewarded. Such spiritual well-being is most obviously the aim of pious donations, but also of the saraka distributed at funerals, in order that God may have mercy (hina ) on the deceased. Finally, and crucially, well-being is not only the well-being of the individual, but of the collectivity: the unity and prosperity of the clan ward (kabila ) or one of its segments (gba).
In a perfect world, there would be no conflict between these different forms of well-being. The good would visibly be rewarded, and the evil punished; what is good for the individual would be good for the collectivity, and vice versa. However, Dyula are acutely aware of contradictory pulls in the world as it is. Piety and material prosperity do not always go hand in hand. An individual's prosperity gives rise to jealousy, and ultimately strife, within the kin group; in turn, the prosperity of any one kin group will foster opposition within
the wider community at large. This is not to suggest that the collective sentiments symbolically expressed during life-crisis rituals are necessarily hypocritical (of course, they sometimes are); the collectivity, whether the kin group or ultimately the community as a whole, is really "concerned" with the well-being of its members. The prosperity of the group depends in many ways on the good fortune of some of its members: wealth, political influence, "connections" of one sort or another, know-how. Even so, there is a constant, if implicit, tension between the well-being of individuals, of particular groups, and of the "community" as a whole. It is appropriate that saraka , the ritual expression of the quest for well-being—whether spiritual or material, of the group or the individual—straddles the domains of siru karamogoya and bayani karamogoya , of self-interest and morality.