Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Translated by Daniel Whitman
With “Kings, Sages, Rogues: The Historical Writings of Amadou Hampâté Bâ”

Washington, D.C. Three Continents Press. 1988.

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Some Further Thoughts on Kaydara and Laaytere Koodal

Fourteen years ago we were putting the finishing touches on the Kaydara text that Hampâté Bâ had transcribed in his language, and that Alpha Sow and I had translated, despairing at every step along the way of ever successfully rendering the harmony of the Pulaar/Fulfulde verse into French. Then the rereading of the text began, with the painstaking questioning which enabled us to establish the critical apparatus framing it. We proceeded the same way for Laaytere Koodal.
However, with the passage of years and an increased knowledge of the Fulɓe world, we now realize the weak points that remain in the presentation of these accounts; this English edition, which we owe to Daniel Whitman, provides us an opportunity to point them out to readers and scholars.
First of all, there is the French translation which still pains us, to whatever extent we may have sacrificed aesthetics to faithfulness. Was there no way of doing better, even if only in conveying the grace and elegance of the original text? Indeed it would be an enormous task to go over those three thousand eight hundred lines of verse one by one, and hone them to what they ought to be…
As for the two introductions and the footnotes, I never intended for them to be taken as a true analysis.
In a course at the University of Dakar, I attempted a different, structural analysis, and the outcome was rather startling; the text revealed sociological and political dimensions which had gone unnoticed in the first reading, where all the interest centered on the initiatory voyage.
But this is not the time or place to undertake an academic exegesis. I would like to comment only on how despite the limits of the initiatory secret which often prevented Hampâté Bâ from answering questions asked of him — it might be possible to go further in the elucidation of these accounts, given the scant information we had on Arabic and Jewish esoteric science.
First of all Kaydara, whom Hampâté already saw in connection with a certain Arab god or spirit, Kaidaara, would this not refer to the strange personage named El Kidr by Guénon, and El Khoudr by Muslims in Senegal 1? And whom the mystic Muhammed El Muyidin 2 recognizes as Moses' mysterious companion in the desert, who is mentioned in the Koran without ever being named?
This personage indeed has many of Kaydara's traits; here is the episode from the Koran:

“Having found one of Our servants who had received Our grace (rahma) issuing from Us and to whom We had taught Science emanating from Us.
Moses said unto him, ‘May I follow thee on the condition that thou teachest me (some) of what was taught to thee, in righteousness?’
‘Thou canst have no patience with me,’ (the servant) answered him.
‘Couldst thou have patience with that which thou dost not embrace in (thine) experience?’
(But Moses) answered, ‘If Allah be pleased, thou shalt find me patient and I will not disobey thy command.’
‘If thou shalt follow me,’ (the servant then) said, ‘question me not until I call upon thee to speak.’
They both left and mounted a sea vessel, where (Our servant) bored a hole. ‘Hast thou bored a hole in this vessel so as to engulf all those within?’ asked (Moses). ‘Thou hast done a monstrous thing!’
‘Had I not told thee,’ said (the other), ‘that thou wouldst (have) no patience with me?’
‘Reproach me not with having forgotten!’ said (Moses then), ‘and submit me not to so rude a test!’
They went off together until they came upon a young man. (Our servant) killed him and (Moses) said, ‘Hast thou (not) killed a person innocent of all homicide? Verily, thou has committed an infamous act!’
But the other replied, ‘Had I not told thee that thou couldst (have) no patience with me?’
(‘Thou sayest the truth’), said (Moses). ‘Henceforth if I ask thee something, keep me not as a companion! Thou hast my apologies.’
They resumed their journey until they came upon a city whose inhabitants they asked for food. The latter refused them their hospitality. (Moses and his companion) then came upon a wall about to crumble. (Our servant) having mended it, (Moses) said, ‘If thou hadst wanted, thou couldst ask payment for this.’
(Then Our servant) declared, ‘This marks the separation between thee and me. Nevertheless I will make known to thee the explanation (whose cause) thou hast not (had) the patience (to discover).’
‘The sea-vessel belonged to poor people who sailed the seas and I wished to damage it, (so it would be valueless in the eyes of) a king who was seizing every vessel behind them, as booty.’
‘The young man had a father and mother who were believers, we feared lest he impose rebellion and infidelity (unto Allah) and we wished that in exchange their Lord give unto them a (son) purer than him and more in conformity with (their) wishes.’
‘As for the wall, it belonged to two orphans from the city. Under this wall is a treasure which was destined unto them. Their father was virtuous and thy Lord wished that they reach maturity and discover (only then) their treasure through the goodness (rahma) of the Lord. To do this was not mine (own) intention. There is the explanation of that (whose cause) thou (hadst) not the patience (to discover).’” (Koran, sura 18, the “Cavern.”)
However, the Fulɓe Kaydara is much better described and defined than Moses' companion, who is only alluded to in the Koran. But this is perhaps due to the fact that the Koran is exoteric while the Kaydara is an esoteric account. Do Kaydara and El Khoudr not both come, however, from the same model, more ancient than the Koran?
Perhaps we must go through the pantheon of pharaonic Egypt, if it is indeed true that Moses was initiated in Egypt 3, and that Pythagoras received all his hermetic science from Egypt before transmitting it to the West.
Moreover we know, after research done by Cheik Anta Diop 4, that the Fulɓe are the principle African heirs to pharaonic civilization, and that that hermetic science must have been propagated, at least in part, in black sahelian Africa.
But if one asks the Fulɓe of Senegal where Hampâté gathered these tales, one notices that divinities like Koumen or Tyamaaba are much better known than Kaydara.
Kaydara and the Great Star are accounts not widely told by griots. They seem little known, outside certain “arɓe (sing. arɗo) ” families of the Djoloff and of the Fuuta 5 (this confirms their very unique status with regard to initiation to power). These “arɓe” families are characterized by being made up of sages who are highly literate in Arabic, initiated into Muslim as well as Fulɓe esoteric science, and who practice the occult sciences in both cultures.

A member of one of these families, Arɗo (plur. Arɓe) Dembo, transmitted these accounts to Hampâté Bâ, at the time when the latter was a researcher at the IFAN in the 1950s. In fact a first version exists, highly abridged and with an introduction by Théodore Monod.
It seems to me, then, that a decoding of these texts would be revealing, if the Arabic symbolism of numbers were used, along with colors and certain figures (triangle, pentagram, hexagram) which appear and reappear in the Kaydara and Koodal… This of course would make for some rearrangement of data common to the Kabbala, to Islam, even to Freemasonry 6, in fact to this knowledge taken all together which is customarily grouped under the heading of “Tradition.”
It now seems indispensable to pass through this detour of Muslim esoteric science; only afterwards will it be possible to identify what is uniquely Fulɓe in Kaydara.
Afterwards it will also be possible to provide an in-depth interpretation of these texts, which currently can be penetrated only by initiates in the two above-mentioned traditions. There must be few indeed who have been readers of these accounts, for the large majority of Arɓe (sing. Arɗo) Fulɓe who benefit by having had a double initiation can read neither French nor Pulaar in the alphabet we used in our edition. They read Arabic and Fulfulde in Arabic script.
Here then are a few additions and indications for research, thanks to which I hope that some readers may penetrate the mystery of the throne room with seven doors… as well as many others, which remain locked up in Kaydara and Laaytere Koodal.

Lilyan Kesteloot
Chairperson, Department of African Literatures and Civilizations,
IFAN (Institut Fondamental de I'Afrique Noire)
Associate Professor at the College of Humanities
University of Dakar. 1980

1. And whom Hampâté Bâ calls Khadrou.
2. Muyidin ibn Arabi: the wisdom of prophets.
3. It is said that this was by his father-in-law, Jethro, the patriarch from Madian. The latter was said to be an Egyptian initiated priest.
4. Nations nègres et cultures. Antériorité des civilisations africaines. Paris. Présence Africaine.
5. The Woɗaaɓe group, sub-group of the Sannaraabhe.
6. Hampâté Bâ received several letters at that time from Freemasons whom the Kaydara had greatly excited.