live with a genius and the climate crisis

In the Saint Louis Barbarian Language life sways between two waters. One is that of the Senegal River, where there is a genius who protects them, as their ancestors told them, but which is contaminated by the debris that accumulates on its banks.

The other is the Atlantic Ocean, which threatens the rise in sea level, which especially affects this city in northern Senegal, a country with more than 700 kilometers of coastline and the eighth most vulnerable in the world to the elevation of the level of sea water.

At dusk, several children decide to get into the waters of the river and float on a kind of mattresses built from plastic drums near the colorful canopies moored along the shore of this area of ​​the Senegal River between the Barbarian Tongue - a narrow sandy peninsula- and the Island of Saint Louis, the two areas of the city linked with bridges to the other, more extensive part, which is situated on the continent.

Efe tells the sexagenarian El Hadji Alioune Gueye, head of the Bas N'dar Toute neighborhood, in the Barbarian language, that young people now go to the river because they are not afraid, but when he was a child they told him the story of Mame Coumba Bang so he wouldn't get in the water.

"It's the totem of Saint Louis. They told us, to intimidate us, that he was a genius and that, if we bathed, we could drown. And we were afraid. But now the young people no longer remember that or believe it," explains Gueye .

When asking three young men sitting on a street in the Barbarian Tongue for Mame Coumba Bang, one indicates with a finger towards a street. Another of them looks at him and tells him that he is not asking for an address, but for the genius and they end up saying that they have heard about it, which is something that older people have.

Although it sounds like something old for young people, the truth is that there are many citizens of Saint Louis who ensure that offerings are still made to Mame Coumba Bang when a baby is born.

"When you have a child, on the day of baptism you throw a piece of lamb into the river for Mame Coumba Bang to protect it. I have done it, me and most of the Saint Petersburg people," says Gueye.

Over the years, the home of this mystical entity has been degrading, especially because citizens leave trash on the banks of the river.

Khady Aïdara, who lives a few steps from the riverbank, accuses the city council of not paying those who must remove the waste and stay there for so long that not even she knows how often they go to collect them, except if there is a authority that comes to visit the city, "then it is used to clean," he says.

"There are times that the current takes it, but other times it stays there until the people of the town hall come. For that to happen it is necessary at times for people to claim," Aïdara explains, remembering that at the lamb party the garbage arrived even the street and cars could not drive, so people had to regroup to gather and burn it.

The river is, however, essential for Saint Lucians, who say they could not live without it because "it is God who has given us the river," says Efe Gueye.

The Senegal River has a length of more than 1,000 kilometers, crossing all of northern Senegal and reaching the neighboring country to the east, Mali.

In the past, the river was navigable and fishermen who lived in the Barbarian language could go to Podor (city of northern Senegal), transport goods and there was a lot of fish.

Now, the fishermen of the peninsula keep the canoes in the river but fish in the sea, because they say that in the river there is not so much fish and, if there is, they are small fish.

"Could Mame Coumba Bang leave the river because of the dirt?" We asked.

"The story of Mame Coumba Bang is not very rational but we, as Muslims believe that there are geniuses. It is written in the Quran, the so-called 'djins'. They are everywhere, they are more numerous than human beings and they like dirty places, bathrooms, "replies Ass Sow, chairman of the N'dar Toute neighborhood council.

Aïdara also does not believe that Mame Coumba Bang is going to leave because she has always lived in the river.

In the Language of Barbarie, only a few meters separate the sea from the river and if they join both is due to an opening created in 2003 south of the city to prevent flooding due to river rises.

The result was appalling. Of about four meters, this opening has been extended by the passage of water exceeding seven kilometers, which has caused the disappearance of some villages in the area and the flooding of others causing, among others, the salinization of farmers' lands .

But the problem goes further. "There are scientists who say that if we do nothing, in fifty years the Barbarian Language will disappear. The researchers say that, and we are sorry right now, because there are houses that have disappeared," says convinced Magatte Diaw, fisherman's representative in the zone.

When asking other people in charge of the neighborhoods that make up La Lengua de Barbarie, they refer to the same data. This is a figure that was given in an international forum held in 2010 in Saint Louis.

"Scientists around the world have said in a very categorical way that Saint Louis is going to disappear from the map in fifty years. They said it in 2010, now there are forty years left," he tells Efe Sow in a room where just a bed comes in and which composes what his whole house is.

Aïdara realizes that the sea is getting closer by counting streets.

"There were about fifteen streets between the river and the sea and the sea has taken nine or ten," explains Aïdara.

"When I was young, the sea was almost a kilometer and has advanced very quickly," says Gueye.

"My grandmother told me that when you went to the sea you had to take your food because at lunchtime you would be far away," says Aïdara.

But Aïdara is reluctant to believe that things can change.

"They say that the Barbarian Language is going to disappear, but I don't believe that. We were born like this, between the sea and the river, and we are going to live like this and believe that it will always be that way, although right now we feel that the sea is moving very quick, "confesses this woman.

The saintluisense professor of Ancient History Babacar Diop, better known as Buuba, declares that thanks to his work analyzing linguistics he realized who Mame Coumba Bang was.

Mame means grandmother in Wolof, language of the majority and homonymous ethnicity in Senegal, and Coumba is a woman's name, but the term Bang was not known among the populations of Saint Louis, coming from the Wolof, Tuculor and Moors ethnic groups (from Mauritania), because, says Diop, is a word of the Pular ethnic group.

"In our traditions there is a codified language because we do not want children to know it. Bang comes from the inversion of the word Ngabu, which in the middle means hippo," says the professor.

"Mali - the name of the neighboring country - also means hippo in the Bambara language. The hippo for the great empires was very important, it meant you had a lot of water, land and fish," he adds.

If you ask about stories of hippos in Saint Louis, almost nobody knows them. However, Aïdara remembers that more than twenty years ago, when he went to primary school, he saw a hippo in the river and was not allowed to approach.

"I never saw a hippo again," admits Aïdara, while reluctant to think that things can change.

María Rodríguez


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