Cultural Fusion & Composite Reality

Bett-Smiths book, The Making of Bamana Sculpture is a very interesting book that gives insight into the complexity of trans-experience reality and the internal mechanisms of cultural dynamics. In seeking to understand the uniqueness of her writings the reader is confronted with the ‘extended dimensions’ of the living experience- and the different qualities of feeling and vibrational ‘balance’ that each culture brings to the subject of ‘experience-reality’. I found Ms. Smiths writings to be profoundly informative even though it was also clear that her viewpoint also contained a consistency that carried its own sub agenda (i.e.. an expanded feminist viewpoint that had a kind of ‘sixtieths’ feeling to it), even so, the thrust of her writings created its own context and must be taken seriously. The question for me of whether or not her writings constitute some sort of cultural violation cannot be contained to the ethics and/or value system domain of Ms. Smith alone but rather the whole enterprise of cultural syncretism presupposes that communication and inter-cultural experiences are a fact of physical universe existence- and this axiom takes for granted that there will be communication – information exchanges- of the sort that makes up Ms. Smiths writings. The challenge of The Making of Bammana Sculpture for me is that in this effort we are give an opportunity to experience several different layers of information particulars that give deep insight into both the Bamama and Western perceptual reality ‘positions’. I write this because Ms Smiths questions were exactly the questions I would have secretly wanted her to ask- even though information transfer on this level is necessarily complex. Still, we cannot simply prejudge the aesthetic reality of Ms Smith without also taking into account the individuals who gave her the information. Either this is true or ‘those poor African cannot be expected to know what is in their interest or not’. In seeking to understand the dynamic implications of The Making of Bamama Sculpture we are forced to rethink ‘old positions’ ( for the ‘five Billionth’ time).

The essence of Ms Smith’s writings for me ( at this point in time) involves the weight of her attempts to establish correspondences between the vibrational dynamics and inter-connections between the master Bamama Sculpture tradition and the cosmic tradition of women (in Bamama culture). The thrust of her writings would extend to establish a polarity structural construct that reflected 1) on the relationship between divinity driven postulates and human behavior 2) on the phenomenon of ‘composite species’, and 3) on the isolation of the ‘other’. In the first category, Ms Smith focuses on the genesis foundation of what she perceives as the spiritual and/or cosmic bases of ‘motivation’. The thrust of her work would help focus attention on the trans-historical role of feminine spiritual powers as a genesis point of definition for ‘poetic logics’ and ritual design. It is the relationship of the master sculptor to his Djinn and the fact of child-birth that clarifies the aesthetic ‘law-basis’ of human postulation in Bamama culture. However Ms. Smith in my opinion continues the same mis-assumptions that has long characterized western scholarship when viewing the African continent. Somehow there is the assumption that the underlying components of the African sensibility is somehow inherently different that the composite world group ( or even worse, that the underlying vibrational affinity nature of the European sensibility is somehow ‘more extended’ than what is normal for human beings)- but upon examining the evidence this viewpoint does not whole up. Smith writes of the African’s sense of mystery(of physicality) in a way that kind of suggest that the subject of existence as been ‘solved’ by the west. This is cultural arrogance at best. The best part of her writings for me are when she realizes the ambiguity of the terms male an female. It is the trans-sexual implications of this aesthetic position that has transformational possibilities.

The significance of The Making of Bamama Sculpture for me lies in the great detail of Ms Smiths effort. I found the work to be of such serious interest that I also read chapters three to through four (The Human World and Trees and Tools). This is not to write that every aspect of her writings has relevance but rather- in seeking to evaluate Dr. Smiths book it cannot be ignored that much effort has gone into the whole of her academic effort. This is a scholar who like Professor Marks has taken the effort to learn the language of the people she has chosen to study and also committed herself to live with the Bamama people inside their culture for a period of years. The question for me is not that there are so many things that are ‘strange’ in Dr. Smiths writings but rather that there is much of relevance in her effort. In reading the book I walked away with a sense of ‘actual experience’- as opposed to ‘the surface of a subject’. Dr. Smith’s writings are complex, but at least she’s involved with her own viewpoint. I can relate to that.

The methods that Dr. Smith used to obtain her information in the creation of The Making of Bamama Culture gives me no problem at all. It seems to me that everyone involved in the project knew what they were getting into. If the Bamama master did not know of the implications of the tape recorder in the end it was always clear that someone was being paid to give ‘non-sanctioned’ information to a stranger. The question of ethics in a situation like this one is a two way street. Are we to assume that Dr. Smith is the first European person to come into Africa and as such, that the exchange of information in this mannor has no historical precedence? In seeking to gain insight into this subject I am reminded of the lost of ‘magic’ and the dawn of rationalism as a replacement for ‘wonder’. Still, the historical dimensions of this subject area seems to suggest that Africa is the embodiment of change and transformation. This is why the genesis essence of African culture cannot be separated from composite humanity. The phenomenon of cultural syncretism starts here, and it should not be lightly dismissed that the study of Bamama Sculpture is not separate from the spiritual crisis we now find ourselves dealing with in this present period of cultural stagnation and agitation. In seeking to view the subject of Bamama culture we are forced as westerners to realize the enormous changes that modernity has wrought. Doctor Smith did not fool me for a moment. It was always clear to me that she was looking for herself in Bamama culture ( and her work gives me an opportunity to look for myself as well- as I seek to negotiate ‘the differences’ revealed in her enquiry and how it ‘re-frames’ my understanding of ‘experience’). The spectra range of her writings open up a picture of life in a Bamama community that can provide a backdrop to looking at this present time period. There are three aspect to her subject focus that interest me in this regard, that being what her work poses to understanding : 1) the ‘actualness’ of a living and breathing community’ 2) the consideration of cultural balance 3) the role of ‘hidden truths’. In the first example, the thrust of Smith’s writings establishes some sense of life in the Bamama community. One get a sense very quickly that the concept of the individual in this society is somewhat complex. Because with the basic cultural effort centered on the mechanisms of the composite group the phenomenon of innovation in Bamama culture becomes very interesting. On one hand the ritual structures that Dr. Smith writes of presents a model of society that seems very healthy compared to ours, but on the other hand there is a stagnant cultural component that contains the limit of ‘introspection’ ( leaving this quality for the master sculpturs and ritual experiences). Still, after a period of reading one begins to sense a kind of ‘forced friendliness’ that could be somewhat ‘rough’ from a world perspective. Ritual incantation in the Bamama world is not simply a spiritual phonomenon that connects the culture to its cosmic essense but rather this same discipline is used to protect the people from one another- there is cosmic trust and the recognition of experience ( good and bad).(?). For myself, I’ll take the toss-out phrase that lightly mentioned that the aesthetic implications of the Bamama flute ( and by implication, the role of music in Bamama society) as a domain that is much more powerful that the work of the master sculpture. If this is the case, why did Dr. Smith limit her subject inquiry into Bamama culture to the dynamic implications of only one sector of the creative community?. ( even though one must necessarily start somewhere- and I don’t mean to be unfair). I was particularly interested in Dr. Smiths inquiry into the domain of the ‘other’ and the ritual of hidden meaning. The role of the forest as a transitional area-space that is suspended from the normal parameters of cultural behavior seems to be a iconic-axiomatic event parameter that points to some aspect of universal human experience ( and/or spatial/area dimension ‘tendencies’). This aspect of her book had great importance for me. Finally, the whole of Dr. Smith’s writings helped me to understand that the complexities of communal living has universal extensions (implications). Every other sentence of Dr. Smith’s subject interviews contained some kind of response that was directed because of social reality consonants – ( i.e. the effect of gossip, the fear of envy and/or assassination, the quality of pride and/or ‘too much pride’, the price of ambition, the need for codes of behavior, the fact of sex ( and the related fact of men and women) the phenomenon of children and the essence of mystery ( it was important for me to read of Nyamaton confirming the old ‘central curiosity’ – that being; after acknowledging the realization of birth and existence, in the end no one has transcended ‘the domain of non-existence’ to the extent where there is ‘comfort in a definition’. The mysteries ‘spring eternal’.