Women VS Men
Bori ceremonies can become an arena, a public sports place, where women display their understanding of gender relations. Songs and dances portray different situations enacted in critical ways of men’s activities.
Riding a horse, hunting, hoeing are all men’s prime reasons of pride. Women are excluded from these activities.
With their Bori spirit’s help and their musicians and song composers, women can bypass these gender rules or comment about them.
A blind man, Mr Sapon can see invisible spirits that people can only imagine.
Abisi Bori women with her musicians
The Bad Horseman
Our first example is a dance to a song entitled: /Ayunwa warwan yaro/
“The hungry boy is a bad rider.”
The dancer of this spirit personifies a rider whose horse is his master.
The dancer mimes a hungry boy who wants to ride back home to eat. Her erratic movements show that the rider can’t control his horse, who always goes on a different path than ordered or takes the most difficult path.
The dancer becomes a pig hunter and dance like a horseman chasing wild pig with his lances, but his clumsy horse throws itself in the river.
The relation between horseman and horse is the same as the transformation of the women into a mount for a spirit to which she cannot resist.
It shows that the aim of the Bori is to achieve harmony with this spirit and not to be a bad horse. This dance obviously also makes fun of bad riders. It is a critical comment on a highly valued masculine activity forbidden to women.
It is also a reminder of the general preference of young women for good horse riders as companions.
For the kiso love marriage, many boys compete to court girls who look for skillful young hunters who will bring them meat and animal trophies and even, who knows, take them to prestigious secret rites of victory.
At another level, the choreography talks about men versus women power relations. The husband’s horse daily maintenance of watering and feeding rest upon the work of his riner wife who has this special responsibility.
He is somewhat concerned because she becomes very familiar with the horse and may get too much power over it. They are afraid, in the case of serious conflicts with their wife, that the “horse-woman” as she is called, may order the horse to throw him off and kill him.
This shows why, these wives are subject to special good treatment by their husbands, especially when he needs to use his horse for hunting or travelling.
Bori Women Hunters
The main and most popular Bori choreographies are about hunting, the most valued male activity.
On March 5, 1973, around five p.m., a Bori ceremony arrived at its climax. After the usual preliminaries, a woman dressed as a man turns into a big game hunter with a miniature bow and arrow of wrought iron. She takes a stick and draws a map on the ground, mimicking a hunter searching the trail of the prey.
An assistant dancer gives her a small brush to clean the path while she studies the animal’s tracks.
She looks away, putting a hand over her eyes like a visor, and examine the ground to study the tracks.
She then finds a lead, engages in imaginary paths, retrace her steps and rushes again in new directions.
Gradually, the rhythm of the music accelerates, the huntress follows a track and finally discovers the beast.
It’s a small mortar (30 cm by 10 cm) that women use to prepare condiments and sauces.
She walks to the prey and throws her small arrow at it.
Immediately, she takes it and brandishes high up her arms and launches a great victory shout. A ritual assistant hurry to the “mortar-prey” and pretend to pull out the deadly arrow.
The two women dance frantically backward and trample the ground in a victory dance. The huntress reaches a climax, she screams and writhes until a Bori assistant tries to hold her by the arms to calm her.
She then grabs her knife and starts to dance alone, crying… and removes the bells of one of her legs. She changes her man’s hat for a woman’s hat.
She takes a calabash of beer, sheds some on the ground as libation and shares it with the other dancers. The musicians take this time out to drink and then resume playing.
Meanwhile, another group of women forms a little circle apart, and dance at a song about /enam/ : “We hunt meat.”
But the first woman comes back and argues with these dancers and the musicians.
She snatches his /idom/ (the guitar like instrument) from his hands and claims a song specially composed for her own spirit instead of the one that is played for the other women.
The dancing starts again. She crouches and grabs sorghum stalks like if she was a hungry warthog invading cultivated fields.
A new song resonates:
“The pig near the house is larger than that of the bush and you have to go and see for yourself if it’s true.”
It is followed by “The butcher’s song ” who is coming to divide the pig and it signals that the hunt is nearly over.
The dancer then takes off her shirt and goes topless.
She quickly takes out a braided straw object and inserts it in her belt like a tail.
She starts to behave like a horseman, squatting and hopping around while musicians play at galloping horse pace.
The possessed fall backward but is caught by the other dancers who gives her a calabash of beer. At 18 h 45, the sun is already low and the music stops.
The dancers gradually come out of their trances but the main dancer is so agitated that her husband comes and takes her hands and watch her so she does not hurt herself .
This elaborate dance of a hunter’s spirit illustrates a sexual paradox.
This whole setting shows that women’s hunter spirit is stronger than men, their pigs are bigger, they kill leopard by hand or with a small rock, all hero’s biggest masculine challenges.
Women are excluded from hunting activities and ridiculed by men about their caterpillar gatherings. But what if women could hunt like men?
The Hoeing Woman
Another dance mimics the work of hoeing men.
The dancer uses a simple digging stick and pretends to dig the hard ground of the dry season. She also carries a miniature wooden hoe made by a Rukuba craftsman who engraved “Made in Rukuba” on it.
The dancer stands up, proudly bulging her chest while they sing:
“What kind of season is it, we have no rain.”
“What are you doing, bulging your chest, this is the time to cultivate, what are you going to harvest if you do nothing? “
The dancer wears a back plate imported from the Katab and reputed to cure back pain, while musicians sing: /tiwan arwɜt∫i/ leave the Katab women alone…
This dance, like the others, turns around the usual gender relations, with their spirits, women act as men but better, hoeing in the hard earth with a simple digging stick.
They also comment on the 1973 drought problems, insisting that men should start worrying about it and come down from their podium to work.
These examples give a glimpse of the richness of Abisi Cultural History and how memories and gender politics are embedded into Bori performances for the benefit of all.
Will this open a discussion space for women to resist the takeover of Abisi spirit world by some men who claim an exclusive power of domination in this sphere ?