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Day 36: Dakar to Bamako

Dakar, Senegal 
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A sweet potato changes hands at Kayes station. The mud-stained coach bears the logo of Chemins de Fer de Mali.
Michael Palin - SaharaIn a nearby couchette is an English teacher, an impressive Fulani woman in a pale purple robe and headdress and a striking silver necklace. With her confident English and her forthright, expressive delivery, she seems to epitomise the strength and presence that I've seen in many black West African women. Rather disconcertingly, for such an embodiment of the matriarchal virtues, her name is Daddy. Well, that's how it's pronounced. It's spelt D-h-a-d-i.

I ask her about the role of women in West Africa.

'She is the protector, you know, the keeper of, let's say, a culture, a civilisation. It's the role of a woman to take care of children, you know. She can give advice, she retains a lot of secrets.'

When I ask her what sort of secrets, she uses the example of female circumcision, or excision, which is still carried out here when girls are ten or eleven.

'It is said that a girl must be excised. If she's not excised she's like a male.'

I've heard this justification for circumcision before. The belief that the foreskin is something female in the male and the clitoris something male in the female.

'There is a woman who is going to be in charge of their education during that time of excision. She's going to teach them how to take care of their husband when they get married. She's going to teach them to be submissive to their in-laws, their husband, for a good wife is the one who is submissive. So, that's why I was telling you that the woman holds the secret of African society.'
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 36
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: Dakar
  • Book page no: 117

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