Of Water and the Spirit Critique
by Nicole Camera
I find many elements of this work very interesting, but a few constant threads of the story truly engaged me. I am fascinated by the recurring mention of issues surrounding his name and by the consistent application of magic in his life and the life of the Dagara people.
My name, Nicole, is derived from the word for "victory" in Greek. Although I feel I do have a distinct purpose in life, I have never referred to my name's meaning in order to know it or remember it. Malidoma means "be friends with the stranger/enemy" in the Dagara language and this is Malidoma's mission in life. He told the elders of his identity and purpose on Earth when he was a soul taking on human form in his mother's womb. On the third day after his birth, Malidoma was named as such because it is a constant reminder of his purpose. Malidoma had to tell the West (the stranger/enemy) of his people. Through Of Water and Spirit, Malidoma is fulfilling his purpose in life.
What is even more intriguing is that, in the Dagara culture, when a baby is born he or she is not considered a new being, as it is believed in Western culture and religion. He or she is considered a being from the other world who has entered this world, as a human, in order to carry out a mission. The name has taken on a great spiritual significance in Dagara culture.
In Western culture magic has been traditionally viewed negatively. The word often conjures up images of witches, spells, cults, and dark rituals. As Malidoma displays, in Dagara culture, along with most traditional African culture, magic is viewed positively and is at the core of religion.
Consequently, magic is an integral part of Malidoma's life. He speaks of it manifesting in his everyday life, his education, his experiences with his Grandfather, and, most of all, in his initiation.
Although, he did not have "connections," Malidoma was accepted to the university which gave him various degrees. Although he did not attend many of his classes, he always did well on his exams. He attributes this to the use of magic through the talisman he wears. Malidoma states, "I always seem to be able to get where I need to go and say what I need to say."
It seems that Malidoma acquires much of his magical powers through his Grandfather. As the "leading healer and a powerful magician" in his village, Malidoma's grandfather is with him, his "brother," through much of Malidoma's young life. After his death, Grandfather continues to be an important presence. He tells Malidoma of the purpose of his captivity in the seminary and when he must go back to the village.
At no time is magic as apparent as it is during Malidoma's initiation or Baar. He states that initiation involves an "acquisition of knowledge" about the magical various realities besides the one in which we reside. The various layers of reality th at Malidoma speaks of throughout his book become more clear and comprehensible as he goes through the stages of initiation. Also through this, the danger of initiation becomes more understandable. For these are other realities and, indeed, a human can be lost in them.
Magic becomes the way knowledge can be obtained. This knowledge is found in experiencing the other worlds. Magic is, therefore, a constant occurrence, a part of everyone's life. Appropriately, Malidoma states, "the more you dwell in this world (the "other world") the less you see it as magical" Magic is as familiar and real to him, as prayer is to someone who practices Islam.
The significance of a name has taken on new meaning to me and magic has lost much of its unfamiliarity because of Malidoma's story. Although I have learned about the traditional religions of Africa, Malidoma's words made his culture and the Dagara people truly real. Of Water and the Spirit enlightened this Western reader.