Of Water and the Spirit

The strap line for this book neatly sums it up really. This is a wonderful account of a young African’s formative years as a very a small boy in his tribal village, from which he was taken by French Jesuit priests and placed into a strict Catholic seminary many miles from his home and family, only to return many years later as a young adult in his early 20’s.

This personal account of that period is a wonderfully written narrative that not only allows us to get a real feel for the ritual and magic of his people and the medicine that they carry and have knowledge of; but there are also many great insights and pearls of wisdom to savour.

Many times whilst reading this inspiring story I found myself reflecting on the world view that these so called ‘primitive indigenous’ people have and marvelling at the holistic and far sighted way that they view reality and everything within it.

The story also offers many salient points that continue to bear relevance today. The trail of destruction that the white man has wrought on these types of cultures and the awful and detrimental affect that colonialism and fervent religious conviction have had on the world and indeed seems to plague us today. There is after all a reaction to every action and it seems to me that we are now reaping that colonial harvest. Malidoma’s account is further confirmation of what has already been lost to man through his need to conquer his fellow man.

His story is probably a very common one for people of Africa but what sets him apart is first of all the shamanic medicine lineage that he comes from and his incredible ability to survive through hardship and process it in a way that enables him to continually grow.

Set in the tribal land of the Dagara people in Burkino Faso the early part of the story predates Independence from France and the looming influence of the local Jesuit missionary is an important part of Malidoma’s story. After being taken from his family at the young age of about 4 years he is then ‘indoctrinated’ into the white man’s medicine for the next 15 years of his life, during which he forgets all of his tribal past, even losing the ability to speak his mother tongue.

His transformation and subjugation is almost complete but before it is he rebels and escapes back to his village, only to find that this is really just the beginning of his journey.

Malidoma is a man with destiny; a man who straddles that difficult divide of being between two worlds; a bridge between tribal and western, ancient and modern.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in any form of indigenous shamanic knowledge and shamanism in general.

Book Details: Malidoma Patrice Somé. Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman (Arkana). Penguin; New Ed edition (28 Sept. 1995). ISBN-10: 0140194967. ISBN-13: 978-0140194968

Review Details: Of Water and the Spirit was reviewed by Davyd Farrell for Indie Shaman magazine

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