Diaries from an intrepid filmmaker (12)

Imagine this sacred drum playing throughout

3 days in Canhabaque...

We got invited to a unique event: the crowning of the new queen of Canhabaque. Here, you can only be queen if you are beyond 60, in the last phase of your life, and of course having done all the various initiations. The potential queen needs to have several meetings with her family to decide if she accepts the position. It means saying goodbye to her family, friends and village. She moves to a new home and a new village and will reside there till death.

The ceremony is three days of festivities with the sacred drum playing messages throughout. The queen-to-be sits in her hut with a screen in front her door and can only communicate or watch the festivities by peeping through it. The drum is meant to be the mode of communication for the queen, her mobile!

Many chiefs of villages come to take part. They too can only be made chief once they are 60. This age class is so important to Bijagó culture. The young work for the elders who, bit by bit, give them their knowledge. We are very curious to see what is happening now, with the young having access to schooling and others forms of knowledge. Will killing a chicken in order to make decisions persist over other avenues of information?

Village chief

The chiefs are all dressed with colourful drapes, an extraordinary choice of hats, and objects around their necks. They all carry lovely handbags with important objects such as their wine tumbler made from a horn. They all have a dog. When the chief dies, the dog is killed and buried with the chief in order to protect him in his afterlife.

For three days we camped outside the queen's door, waiting for her to appear. The suspense was killing us (as well as the heat). Other forms of entertainment were due to take place such as traditional dances with masks representing various elements of spirits and nature, but unfortunately an important man died, and half of the activities around the queen got dropped.

Waiting for the queen to emerge from the hut

We took that opportunity to interview a few other chiefs we wanted to meet. However, it is a nightmare to interview people here. About 30 kids who insist on giggling and pushing themselves against of in front of the camera and a loud (sacred) drum constantly sending messages. (Please, editor, forgive us....we tried our best!)

She finally did appear, and we were faced with a very old lady, barely able to walk, waxed in Palm oil, shaking and crying, pretending to be a baby. This is meant to represent her rebirth as a queen.

Everyone comes to her and gives her presents of rice, wheat, palm oil, peanuts, followed by long speeches. But it soon dissolved into a drumming and dancing party. We left, dehydrated and exhorted for our outdoor shower.

Read all of Noé's updates from the Bijagós so far.