Sunday, November 2, 2008

We worry here. We worry a lot. The world is not unfolding as it should. Life and tradition and social relations here revolve around the predictability of the seasons. And when this predictability disappears, known patterns are thrown into disarray. In trying to understand what has happened to the uplands rice harvest, a small group of youth gathered on the chief’s porch this morning to talk about the rains, to ask the chief why the rains no longer fall as they should.

In the old days, I’m told, the month that rain fell predictably for seven days straight was known as “Paya” (or Dadmom). This was the time when families were confined to their houses, traditionally round houses where each woman in the family kept in the rafters a sack of rice that she had harvested, where it would dry from the heat of the fire burning in the centre of the room. During Paya she would bore a small hole in the sack and take enough rice each day to feed her children who would now be wholly dependent on Pa and Ya for their food. Hence the name of the month. This year, assuming some predictability in the season, women harvesting the upland rice followed their traditional patterns and left the rice to initially dry in the field. The rains, though, have had other plans and there is a deep fear that the upland harvest might spoil from the current unpredicted incessant rain. Traditionally this is the rice that the women would control. The last of the boliland rice which was a very successful harvest has, however, been harvested and is safely stored so ultimately the chiefdom has a secure supply of rice for food and seed. The boliland harvest represents a shift to plough agriculture, historically the domain of men. It will be interesting to see how the changing climate thus also changes social roles and relationships here.

This topic of discussion came up this morning through conversations about forests. As the Makambray and Maso children are each writing stories from the forest (which we hope to publish and return to to the schools to start school libraries), I’ve been wanting to visit the forests here and have been asking where to go. Kafoima, our forest, I’ve been told, used to be the domain of chimpanzees and baboons and lions. With the growing deforestation (blamed on the village on the other side of the mountain), the animals have disappeared. Some people believe that the change in rains can be attributed to the loss of the forests and there is a growing push to preserve what’s left.

Next week as well as delivering letters to most of the schools here from North America and continuing with the bookmobile, I’m going to visit Sierra Leone’s only national park, an area of savannah and jungle located on the border with Guinea, home to both people from the area and an array of animals including hippos, elephants, chimpanzees, monkeys, wart hogs and possibly giraffes and lions (no mention of snakes). Today I’ll take a walk down to the village of Katheah, our principal remaining old forest.
Photo - packing the boliland rice at "One House" (not yet a recognized village, close to Rosanda)