Senufo-Tagba of West Africa

illustrated village including buildings and a woman

The Farming Competition

hands holding grain and scythe pictograph

Each man takes his hoe, fills it with dirt, and uses the dirt to mark a line in the area to be cultivated. The hoes used by men for farming have wide blades that double back from the wooden handle and can weigh 15 pounds when full of dirt. In this way several lines of dirt are formed side-by-side in the field. Once the lines are complete, each man brings an object (wood, straw, etc.) that he can recognize and places it in a common pile. As each man's object is selected by the supervisor (the oldest member of the group), that man is allowed to go to the next dirt line in order and begin hoeing. It may take half an hour to complete the selection process, so luck is an important factor in the competition. The process ensures that most men will not be hoeing the line they drew; having drawn a narrow line will end up benefiting a competitor because he has less dirt to remove.

Women will also have farming competitions for weeding. The hoe used by women is smaller than the one used by the men. As with the men's competition, the women's contest is held by members of the same age set.

  • man sitting on stool
    Farmers arrive at the land to be hoed.
  • man sitting on stool
    Ready to start.
  • woman sitting in a porch
    The competition is on.
  • man sitting on ground
    Cleared land.

Praise songs

The men work as quickly as possible to hoe out the lines they have been assigned. Singers and musicians move from one competitor to another singing praise songs to urge them on. In praise songs, the achievements of the man's family are sung to him. The singers urge the man to do even better in his own work. There is a great pressure on a Senufo man not to let down his family name.

a group of musicians
Singers and musicians encourage the competitors.

Declaring a Winner

The winner of the competition is given a mask with carved birds that indicates how the winner is above the others, out of their reach. The winner dances around, challenging the others with exclamations about his victory. He also listens to the singers sing his praises. Once a winner has been declared, others can help the losers finish. After the last competition of the day is finished, the supervisor will take the mask and keep it safe until the next competition day.

man wearing the winner's mask
The winner wears a mask.