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Great Grandfather and I went arm in arm from his hut to a meeting place under a big mango tree about 75 meters away.  He is pretty hobbled, so it took us about 10 minutes.  There were chairs and logs laid out in a circle to receive people for the big feast !  We sat together and enjoyed each other’s company and a couple of gourds of Tchoukoutou, the local homemade fermented sorghum brew, while waiting for people to arrive.

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Some shirtless men, mostly old, wearing traditional hats adorned with boar bristles and sporting cowrie pendants, leather-clad daggers and magic pendants emerged from the bushes. They were carrying a freshly sacrificed sheep and some chickens.  These were quickly dispatched to the women for the makings of the feast.  These men are the « Féticheurs », the liaisons between man and spirit in the local animist spiritual practice, charged with all that is ceremony and sacrifice, healing and magic.  Atacora’s Executive Director, Jacob, is Chief Féticheur for Kounagnigou and Kouporgou, among his many other talents. Good to have such a powerful man on our team!

Buckets and clay jars of Tchoukoutou started to be presented as more and more people arrived. Everyone either brought or was given his own drinking gourd, and the party was on!  There was a core group of old men and women, the chiefs and dignitaries, the counselors and sages seated in the circle. Suddenly, a motorbike rolled up, and it was my friend from the village of Koutchata, Brouillard (the Fog).  His village is the epicenter of this tribe’s spiritual practice, and he is the Chief of all the Chief Féticheurs in the region. Feared and Revered.

After everyone had had a good dose of Tchouk, Jacob opened the feast with a speech, receiving accolades and applause.  One by one, he introduced the local and visiting dignitaries (including me, who they all know anyway).  Each was asked to deliver a speech as well.  This is when things started getting really interesting, and I began to realize that this was a transformative moment. Repeatedly, it was said that I am a returned ancestor of Kounagnigou, confirmed by the Fétiche.  They said that gatherings of this nature, with representation from around the region, were becoming a thing of the past.  Individualism had taken hold, supplanting the community spirit. They celebrated Atacora and its Baobab endeavors, and thanked me and Jacob personally, for helping to bring the community together for what is a very much shared effort and responsibility.  They thanked us for the economic advancement we offer, and promised to always support us. The wise women thanked us for not forgetting them in the design of our plan ; for making sure that households were considered as whole entities when it came to earnings and responsibilities ; for valuing their traditional knowledge of product transformation.

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This all sounds very dignified and sober, I know.  It truly was very moving for us all.  Aided by the Tchouk and abetted by the naturally funny and raucous nature of these Otammari people, there were alot of laughs!  While one man was delivering his speech, another might sneak over to the bucket and serve himself (a faux pas), drawing light-hearted reproach from the crowd. One old guy just wobbled out into the field and dozed off in the dirt.  Speakers were heckled and cajoled, and broke out laughing alot too!  War clubs and voices were raised in hilarious mock combat.  What fun!

Huge vats of pâte (corn mush) and spicy okra sauce were accompanied by washtubs full of meat…truly a special occasion.  Brouillard and I were given our own private whole stewed chicken to eat (by whole I mean head and feet and all).  Everybody ate like kings and queens, then we finished the Tchouk, and went on our way.  I was particularly sad to leave Great Grandfather.  I might not see him again.  He was sad too.  Life and Death in Baobab country.

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