Senegal, Casamance – Emilio Navarino
“THE ESSENCE OF CASAMANCE”
“The Essence of Casamance” is a documentary that I have done in Senegal, in the lower Casamance region. It takes the environment-friendly extraction of essential oils from medicinal herbs as the starting-point for an investigation into the social and anthropological realities of the Diola people, the inhabitants of the Casamance. The Diola women describe the problems they encounter as they try to be self-sufficient in the cultivation and commerce of their agricultural products, and tell us about the “Mutuelle”, the bank founded by the senegalese organisation A.S.D.I., with the purpose of facilitating loans for agriculture.
In a society where the knowledge and practice of traditional medicine resides with the ancient wisdom of the “Guerriseurs”, or tribal healers, the film gives them the possibility of explaining themselves through a series of interviews. “The Essence of Casamance” also describes the highly particular peasant traditions surrounding the Diola rice cultivation: in their society rice symbolises “the woman’s treasure” and has a sacred status connected to fertility rituals, as well as guaranteeing every village’s food requirements. In some of the Casamance villages we investigate the unusual architectural style of the Diola homes, documenting the construction technique known as “bancò”.
Of special significance is the encounter with the Traditional King of Oussouye. The Traditional Kings very rarely accept to speak publically about themselves, but in his house hidden in the village’s sacred wood, the King greets us and explains why his social role is still important today. In 2005, after years of bitter tension, the Casamance region was granted its administrative autonomy by the government of Senegal, and so sets out to be no longer “the granary of Senegal” but an example of a self-sufficient Africa, a model of autonomous developement and democratic participation.