A Deal With the Devil, West African Style

From Wikipedia:

A deal with the Devil, pact with the Devil, or Faustian bargain is a cultural motif widespread in the West, best exemplified by the legend of Faust and the figure of Mephistopheles, but elemental to many Christian folktales. In the Aarne-Thompson typological catalog, it lies in category AT 756B – “The devil’s contract.”

According to traditional Christian belief in witchcraft, the pact is between a person and Satan or any other demon (or demons); the person offers his or her soul in exchange for diabolical favors. Those favors vary by the tale, but tend to include youth, knowledge, wealth, or power. It was also believed that some persons made this type of pact just as a sign of recognizing the Devil as their master, in exchange for nothing. Regardless, the bargain is a dangerous one, as the price of the Fiend’s service is the wagerer’s soul. The tale may have a moralizing end, with eternal damnation for the foolhardy venturer. Conversely it may have a comic twist, in which a wily peasant outwits the Devil, characteristically on a technical point.

But who’s making the deal here?  And who’s paying the price?

As a World Heritage site, Djenné, Mali, must preserve its mud-brick buildings, from the Great Mosque, in the background, to individual homes. Photo: Tyler Hicks/New York Times

From the New York Times  January 9, 2011

Mali City Rankled by Rules for Life in Spotlight

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

DJENNÉ , Mali — Abba Maiga stood in his dirt courtyard, smoking and seething over the fact that his 150-year-old mud-brick house is so culturally precious he is not allowed to update it — no tile floors, no screen doors, no shower.

Who wants to live in a house with a mud floor?” groused Mr. Maiga, a retired riverboat captain.

With its cone-shaped crenellations and palm wood drainage spouts, the grand facade seems outside time and helps illustrate why this ancient city in eastern Mali is an official World Heritage site.

But the guidelines established by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, which compiles the heritage list, demand that any reconstruction not substantially alter the original.

“When a town is put on the heritage list, it means nothing should change,” Mr. Maiga said. “But we want development, more space, new appliances — things that are much more modern. We are angry about all that.”

It is a cultural clash echoed at World Heritage sites across Africa and around the world. While it may be good for tourism, residents complain of being frozen in time like pieces in a museum — their lives proscribed so visitors can gawk.

“The issue in Djenné is about people getting comfort, using the right materials without compromising the architectural values,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the chief of the African unit of Unesco’s World Heritage Center.

Mr. Assomo ticked off a list of sites facing similar tension, including the island of St.-Louis in neighboring Senegal, the island of Lamu in Kenya, the entire island of Mozambique off the coast of the nation by the same name, or Asian and European cities like Lyon, France.

Here in Djenné, the striking Great Mosque is what put the town on the map. It is the largest mud-brick structure in the world, so unique that it looks as if it might have landed from another planet, an imposing sand castle looming over the main square. The architectural style, known as Sudanese, is native to the Sahel.

A trio of unique minarets — square, tapering towers topped by pointed pillars and crowned by an ostrich egg — dominate the facade. Palm tree boards poked into the mosque in rows like toothpicks create a permanent scaffolding that allows residents to swarm over the building to replaster the mud, an annual February ritual involving the entire town.

Djenné is the less famous but better preserved sister city to Timbuktu. Both reached their zenith of wealth and power in the 16th century by sitting at the crossroads of Sahara trade routes for goods like gold, ivory and slaves.

The town was also a gateway that helped spread Islam regionally. When the king converted in the 13th century, he leveled his palace and built a mosque. Mali’s French colonizers eventually oversaw its reconstruction in 1907.

The Grand Mosque was again near collapse when the Agha Khan Foundation arrived to begin a $900,000 restoration project, said Josephine Dilario, one of two supervising architects. The annual replastering had more than doubled the width of the walls and added a yard of mud to the roof. It was too heavy, even with the forest of thick pillars inside the mosque supporting the high ceiling — one for each of the 99 names of God.

In 2006, the initial restoration survey ignited a riot. Protesters sacked the mosque’s interior, attacked city buildings and destroyed cars. The uprising was apparently rooted in the simmering tension among the 12,000 townsfolk, particularly the young, who felt forced to live in squalor while the mosque imam and a few prominent families raked in the benefits from tourism.

The frustration seems to have lingered. While the mosque graces the national seal, residents here appear markedly more sullen about tourism than in many other Malian cities. They often glower rather than smile, and they tend to either ask for money or stomp off when cameras are pointed in their direction.

With the mosque restoration nearing completion, the town is focusing attention on other critical problems — raw sewage and the restoration of the nearly 2,000 houses.

“There is a kind of tension, a difficulty that has to be resolved by not locking people into the traditional and authentic architecture,” said Samuel Sidibé, the director of Mali’s National Museum in Bamako, the capital…

For full story, click here.

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