Somé, Malidoma Patrice 1956—
Malidoma Patrice Somé 1956—
Spiritual leader and men‘s movement leader
Malidoma Patrice Somé is a speaker currently in great demand across the country. He holds three masters degrees and a Ph.D. and is the author of two books and several articles on spirituality. Most importantly, he is a bridge between two worlds, a man whose self-expressed goal in life is to convey his knowledge of the spiritual life of his people to the rest of the world.
Malidoma Patrice Some was born in the African community of Dano, in what was then known as Upper Volta, a colony of France. Today the nation is known as Burkina Faso. Although he does not know the date of his birth according to European calendar measurement, the year of his birth is listed as 1956 in government records. He was baptized in the Catholic tradition as Patrice, shortly after his birth. Somé’s father was a great believer in the white man’s God as well as tribal customs. Somé’s grandfather held a naming ceremony as is Dagara custom and called him Malidoma, which means he who would “be friends with the stranger/enemy.”
For the first four “rainy seasons” of his life Malidoma Some lived with his people, members of the Dagara, in their traditional style. His home was the community. The village was built around a courtyard where the women lived in a large oval mud and wood building called a zangara, and the men lived on the opposite side of the village in a more elaborate mud, wood, and cow dung structure. Several smaller buildings housed goats, chickens, and other animals. Malidoma’s grandfather was the village elder, the highly respected spiritual head of the community. Malidoma’s grandfather died when Malidoma was four years old. The funeral, which lasted several days and involved much dancing, wailing, and celebrating of his grandfather’s spirit, was one of the few memories he has of his early life with his people.
Shortly after the funeral, Malidoma was taken from his home, “literally kidnapped,” he said, by Jesuit priests in a nearby colonial town. He was placed in a Catholic boarding school, where he lived for the next 15 years. As reported in the Portland Skanner, he endured “years of physical and emotional abuse from the priests, who were determined to create another black priest.” Malidoma left the school when he was 20 years old, walking the 125 miles back to his village, where he was greeted with tears by his mother and older sister. Somé
Born in 1956 in Dano, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso); son of Elie (a farmer and miner) and Colette (a farmer and homemaker; maiden name Somé) Dabire; married Elisabeth Sobonfu, June 26, 1989. Education: University of Ouagadougou, B.A.s in sociology, literature, and linguistics, 1981, MA. in world literature, 1982; Sorbonne, University of Paris, D.E.A. in political science, 1983; Brandéis University, MA, 1984, Ph.D. in literature, 1990. Religion: “Traditional African.”
Addresses: Home—Oakland, CA. Office— 440 Keller Ave., Suite 260, Oakland, CA 94605. Agent—Ned Leavitt, 70 Wooster St, Suite 4F, New York, NY 10012.
realized, however, that he had been thoroughly “indoctrinated,” noted the Washington (D.C.) Afro-American, “into seeing the world through the lens of French language, culture, and religion.” Malidoma could not remember enough Dagara to speak to his parents or other villagers. He was viewed by many people in the village as a “white Black,” a person to be looked upon with suspicion and fear because he was contaminated by the “sickness” of the colonial world. As Somé himself said, he was “a man of two worlds, trying to be at home in both of them.”
Malidoma’s first few months back in the village were difficult ones. He was visited every day by his male mother; in Dagara life the mother’s brother, or to those in the West, an uncle. The job of the male mother is to provide nurturing to a boy. “The male mother is thought of as someone who ‘carries water,’ the energy of peace, quiet, reconciliation and healing,” said Somé. Malidoma underwent several divinations by tribal elders as they tried to determine what to do with Malidoma. Eventually the village decided that Malidoma must undergo Baor, or initiation. The village elders said that Somé had not yet returned home; his soul was still missing somewhere in the land of the white, and that initiation would bring back his whole being to the village.
Baor, or initiation, in the Dagara culture is a month-long process during which a boy becomes a man through a solitary journey away from the village. He was forced to find his own food and sleep in the jungle. Malidoma had never undergone this process because he had been at the seminary. During his month in the jungle Somé learned about his own personal power. He also learned much about the supernatural world and the spirituality that the Dagara possess. His tales of his experience include seeing beings from the netherworld, visions from his grandfather, and viewing the beings that inhabit nature. These were new and frightening experiences for someone that had been raised in the Western view of the world.
After his initiation and welcome home the elders called on Malidoma to go out into the world and inform the white man about their world. Although frightened about going back to the white man’s world, Somé left for Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. He earned bachelor’s degrees in sociology, literature, and linguistics at the university there. He also earned a master’s degree in world literature. Somé related in Of Water and the Spirit that school was very easy for him after his initiation experience. He was able to look at the professors and learn the answers to test questions by reading the looks of their auras. After this he went to the Sorbonne in Paris, where he earned a master’s degree, and Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where he earned yet another master’s degree and a Ph.D. He believes much of his success comes from his talismans and divination objects that he has come to possess since his rite of initiation.
Somé came to the United States originally because the tribal elders said it was where he needed to be. They knew his role in life was to explain the Dagara culture, to be “swallowed” by the West, in order to teach other about the African world. He says that he is “able to be more African in the West than I am in Africa. In my country, a man with as many degrees as I have wears a Western suit and tries to act cosmopolitan. He has turned his back on ‘superstition’ and embraced ‘progress.’” Somé originally became a professor at the University of Michigan after completion of his doctorate. He has since become a full-time speaker and lecturer. He and his wife Sobonfu (which means keeper of the knowledge) are often found at conferences exploring spirituality and workshops in the Men’s Movement.
Somé teaches the importance of learning from and respecting elders and ancestors. He speaks about supernatural aspects of life and the importance of imagination. In his native Dagara home he teaches villagers about the white man, about how he hopes that the Western world can learn to respect the world before it destroys itself. Michael Meade, author of Men and the Water of Life, said that “Some stands on the threshold between the tribal world of magic and living ritual and the modem world of facts and linear logic. He writes as a diviner, seeing clearly into the wounds of these opposing realms. The knowledge, compassion and sincerity of the writing reveals the broken heart in each world and insists on mutual healing and understanding.”
Ritual, Power, Healing, and Community, Swan, Raven, 1993.
Of Water and the Spirit, J. P. Tarcher, 1994.
Also contributor to periodicals including: Brandéis Review, In Context, Shaman’s Drum, and Utne Reader.
Contemporary Authors, volume 145, Gale, 1995.
Meade, Michael, Men and the Water of Life, Harper, 1994.
Somé, Malidoma Patrice, Of Water and the Spirit, J. P. Tarcher, 1994.
Hyde Park Citizen (IL), November 17, 1994, p. 6.
Portland Skanner, May 11, 1994, p. 12.
Utne Reader, July 1994, p. 67-68.
Washington (DC) A fro-American, May 7, 1994, p. B6.
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