Amkoullel, A Fula Child

!</public/images/covers/englisch/youth/covers_biographies_y/Amkoullel_A_Fula_Child_by_Amadou_Hampate_Ba.png! Amadou Hampâté Bâ’s autobiography is a journey into the tradition of Mali, a West African country, which is famous for its long tradition of storytelling. We also learn about Islamic traditions that have a long history in this part of Africa.

Amadou Hampate Ba is an excellent storyteller. He takes us away to Bandiagara, the city of his birth, at the beginning of the last century. Amkoullel is a nickname that Hampate Ba acquired in his childhood; it translates as “Little Koullel.” The name characterizes young Amadou as the apprentice of Koullel, a storyteller in his Malian home town.

Amkoullel describes how he grew up between 1900 and 1921 in various towns of south-central Mali besides Bandiagara: Bamako, Jenné and Kati. We learn about the history of both sides of Hampate Ba’s family, an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon land. After his father’s death, he was adopted by the second husband of his mother, Tidjani. Amkoullel was educated according to the traditions that were common to the Fulbe society, which was Islamic. “Learning by enjoyment” was a principle of Malian education, and his mother was concerned that Amkoullel hold on to the traditions of his ancestors.

But when he enrolled in French schools, the atmosphere of his childhood changed profoundly. A chef de quartier in Bandiagara was charged by the French administration with providing two candidates, children of notable families, for enrollment in the local European elementary school. This chief chose Amadou and his brother out of personal rancor against their guardian, making sure the boys understood that the fate to which they were consigned would lead to total defilement – most vividly represented by the drinking of alcohol and eating of pork. Amadou’s mother makes great efforts to extricate him from this perceived horror, but the boy’s teacher and spiritual mentor, Tierno Bokar, convinces the family to let him pursue European learning. Hampate Ba writes much about the struggles surrounding both his entry into, and exit from, the French educational system, but little about his actual passage through the French schools he attended.

One of the central themes of any biography is the passage from childhood to the threshold of adulthood. It was his mother that made Amkoullel pursue the kind of adulthood that was experienced by the generations before him – an adulthood in the sense of African-Islamic tradition. This experience was decisive, and led to his gift for writing down the traditional stories of his people, and, later on, his own story as a mediator between different cultures.