Endangered Archives

EAP078: Ritual narratives of Bagr Secret Society

Dr Alexis Tengan, Independent Researcher
2006 award - Major project
£2,950 for 2 months

Archival partner: Foundation for Rural Education Empowerment and Development in Ghana

VIEW FILES FROM THIS PROJECT

Project Overview

This project involves the collection and digital copying of over ten hours of audio recordings, about one hour of video filming and twenty-three photographic images of the Dagara bagr mythical narration recorded or taken during the secret rites of initiation into the bagr cult among the Dagara populations living in the borderland region between Ghana and Burkina Faso. The bagr cult was the single most significant foundational institution of the Dagara people of northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso and, in the past, was well preserved in memory through yearly performances of rites of initiation of carefully selected individuals according to criteria and who were willing and also capable of devoting their whole lives to a life of secrecy and ritual practice. The practice has, over the years, created an intangible verbal monument of enormous size. Only a very few number of people among the selected group ever qualified as reciting specialist of the initiatory narratives.

The narratives themselves have solidified to consist of two categories of compositions that were only spoken sequentially in ritual context. The two categories were the black bagr and the white bagr narrative compositions. The black bagr was one long narrative audition (the longest oral narrative composition ever to be identified in Africa and spoken continuously by one voice). The white bagr narration was further sub-divided into four narratives sessions, namely, the white bagr of black beans, the white bagr of white beans, the white bagr of bambara beans and the white bagr dance. All the different categories and different narrations have been identified during previous research and now form part of the census of Dagara Bagr archives. The art of the ritual performance is a unique event and will offer researchers the opportunity to study memory; its structure, production and retention. It will also allow researchers to view for the first the ritual production of Africa's longest oral narrative by a single author. The community has given their approval for the recordings of the rites.

Project Outcome

This project successfully digitised video tapes, audio tapes and photographs of Bagr rituals. The digitisation was undertaken by a professional company and comprises over 6 hours of audio recordings, 23 minutes of audio video recordings and 16 photographs.

Copies of the material are held by the British Library, the Foundation for Rural Education Empowerment and Development in Ghana, and Alexis Tengan, the owner of the original material.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

  • EAP078/1 Alexis Bekyane Tengan's Collection of Ritual Narration Material of the Dagara Bagr Secret Society

The catalogue is available here.