The Baye Fall holy men of Senegal are as distinctive as the Saddhu holy men in India and are fairly similar in appearance, except less nudity. I initially made the mistake of thinking they were rastas, as they wear their hair long, in dread locks. I now realise the chap who gave me my first gris-gris was a Baye Fall.
Along with the hair, they wear home made looking patchwork robes and masses of prayer beads. I first encountered a couple with begging bowls on the streets of down town Dakar. They asked me for change, which I didn’t have.
“That’s okay, perhaps you can buy me some food in this shop?” he asked, hopefully.
I’m okay with that. I was thinking he wanted a few pennies for a bread roll, but he when he demanded nearly £50 for a sack of rice and a sack of sugar I chuckled and went on my way.
The Baye Fall Brotherhood is a Sufi Islamic sect founded by Mame Cheikh Ibrahima Fall – “the Light”. He met Sufi Cheik Ahmadou Bamba who was protesting the French colonialism, in 1892 and became his disciple. Whilst in orthodox Islam, every follower is directly in touch with Allah, in Senegal relationships with God are mostly channeled through various religious leaders. Cheikh Amadou Bamba, the founder of the Mouride Brotherhood, is an iconic figure in Senegal. His name and portrait are painted on many buildings, stickers, taxi windows, necklaces, and t-shirts. Every February, more than two million followers go to Touba, a holy city in Senegal,where Bamba lived, worked, and died. This event, the Grand Magal celebrates the leader’s return from exile in 1907 after having been banished for 20 years by the French.
According to my Baye Fall friend, Massamba, the Brotherhoods mission is similar to the sun and the moon. It has never stopped from beginning of creation until today. Whatever gives nausea to the vulture, makes the hyena vomit, if it comes to the Baye Fall, they will purify it. Baye Fall is being at one with ones energy, through devotion and action, undertaking all work as prayer. Sometimes, as I had experienced, they beg and they own nothing. Instead of Islamic rituals such as fasting and prayer, they perform hard labour. They sing all night in a circle and rotate counter clockwise, the key into “the other time”. The circle is the journey back to ones self. There is no beginning, no end. There is only one.
This is typical of the type of conversation I have on a daily basis. Still, it beats talking about the weather.
Which is all very well, but they do this whilst blasting out devotional music at ear splitting distorted levels. A Baye Fall cafe near us has been doing this at night for Ramadan lately. Neither Khady or I slept much last night and even she, a muslim, was fed up. “God doesn’t demand this” she muttered “they’re selfish and we can’t say anything as it’s Islam”.
She really is starting to think like a toubab.
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