The river Niger, a source of life and danger for the people in impoverished eastern Mali, is also the origin of elaborate mythology. From his travels through Mali and down the Niger in a dugout canoe, Jean-Marie Gibbal has created a personal documentary of the cultures of the region. The result is at once an ethnography of cultures in crisis and a poetic evocation of the environment and people he encountered.
Gibbal portrays the river as the dominant, cohesive force among people in the face of social and environmental strife. He focuses on the "Ghimbala" healing cult, which centers on the river, and how the cult structures social relations in the region. Gibbal vividly recreations the "Ghimbala" rites, nocturnal ceremonies of spirit possession and seance which animate the water spirits, or "genii, " that inhabit the river. The "genii, " he finds, provide the strength of social identity in a world where famine and competing versions of Islam threaten to overpower traditional culture.
In its original French publication, "The Genii of the River Niger" was honored with an Alexandra David-Neel literary prize in 1989. Its powerful lyricism, combined with fascinating ethnographic depth, will delight general readers and specialists alike and will stir debates among specialists in African studies, the anthropology of religion, and literature.