One of Africa’s most natural and valuable resources is its cultural and linguistic diversity, exemplified in a small village in Senegal and explored in an upcoming documentary
Upon arriving after a gauntlet of planes, boats and bush taxis, Agnack felt not like a remote village, but rather the centre of the world. The real centre is not a heaving global metropolis like London, but tiny rural Agnack tucked away in the forest off the road 20km east of Ziguinchor, Casamance, Southern Senegal.
Yes, it was a particularly exciting time for Agnack. It was the first anniversary of the late leader’s death – a time for remembrance, sacrifice and celebration. What made Agnack feel so special to us though wasn’t the fact that buses and bush taxis over-laden with people and cows were arriving from Dakar, Guinea-Bissau, and across Casamance. It wasn’t the impromptu kitchen army churning out buckets of rice and meat, the dazed Dakar children quickly adapting to the fray of chasing dogs and playing baobab fruit football, nor the sheer number of cows and pigs given in sacrifice. Neither was it the frantic palm wine-infused dancing more intense and drawn out than that in any European night club, nor the eerie sound of a couple singing just before dawn in the sacred forest. What made Agnack feel so special was simply that there was so much that could be learnt from it.
Rather than instantiating the tired cliché of a bleak ‘problem continent’, Agnack is rich, vibrant and extraordinarily diverse, both culturally and linguistically. It is a place where not just rivers but peoples converge, and where it is considered unusual for a person to speak no fewer than six languages.
Diversity is not just a modern urban phenomenon, but something that has been well-established and effectively managed for centuries in many parts of rural Africa. The village of Agnack in Casamance is one striking example of this. Casamance, like much of Africa, is too often portrayed in a negative light as a region of poverty, conflict and despair, with flailing education systems and widespread illiteracy. While it does face many challenges, it is in reality a region of warm people, rich cultural heritage, and stunning scenery of meandering rivers and wetlands. It is a place we can learn a great deal from, especially in light of the growing contemporary debate in Europe and North America on how to manage multilingualism and multiculturalism. How do children manage to grow up not only with one ‘mother tongue’ for example, but three languages which they are able to slip in and out of with effortless mastery? How do women marrying into a community become fluent in the languages used there? How do long-term visitors negotiate their identities? These skills – challenges to ‘educated’ westerners – are unremarkable facts of daily life in African settings that we ironically tend to characterise as ‘underdeveloped’, despite the lessons we could learn from them.
In Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack, we seek to challenge such pre-existing stereotypes, weaving together the aforementioned theme of richness and diversity with the story of the people of Agnack as they prepare for and undertake this unforgettable celebration in remembrance of their late leader. Shot in a mainly observational documentary style, this ambitious film project provides a unique perspective on the region and the linguistic repertoires of its inhabitants. It provides a real example for everyday multilingual practice and captures this type of celebration on film for the first time.
The director of this project describes Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack as a community -focused documentary driven by advocacy, rather than commercial interests. The project is part-funded by the AHRC Skills and Development Scheme. The film is currently in post-production and is scheduled to premiere in June 2013. For updates or to learn more, see Chouette Films website or the film’s Facebook page.
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