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Conserving Millet through Potash : Towards a Dogon Epistemology of Materials

La conservation du mil par la potasse. Vers une épistémologie dogon des matériaux
Laurence Douny

Résumés

Vivant dans un environnement climatique contraignant, les dogons du Mali ont développé au court du temps des stratégies techniques afin de pallier au manque de resources alimentaires et de conserver leur céréale de subsistance qui est le petit mil. Pour ce faire, les cendres de tige de mil ainsi que la potasse qui résulte de la percolation lente de ses cendres puis de la cuisson du filtrat obtenu, sont très couramment utilisées afin de conserver cette céréale dans les greniers en terre et les préparations culinaires, particulièrement celles à base de mil. Sous l'angle de l'anthropologie des techniques et en utilisant la chaîne opératoire comme méthode principale de collecte et d'analyse des données de terrain, cet article explore les techniques de conservation traditionnelles du mil qui sont déployées par les hommes et les femmes dogons du village de Kani Kombolé situé dans la région linguistique Tengu Kan. En se concentrant sur la dimension des matériaux du système technique de conservation dogon, cette étude considère “conserver et transformer” comme des pratiques matérielles impliquant des matériaux génératifs qui sont la potasse de mil et la cendre dont elle est extraite et qui résulte de la calcination des tiges et du son de mil. Ainsi, la potasse est considérée à la fois comme une propriété de la cendre et comme la matière résultante de sa transformation. A travers une analyse des processus de transformation du mil notamment par le feu, les chaînes opératoires recueillies mettent en évidence des formes de significations implicites telles que des systèmes de croyances relatifs aux matières, la ritualisation et les aspects symboliques des techniques de conservation qui entrent dans une définition et des pratiques de conservation dogon. Sous cet angle, il sera question de comprendre les logiques de conservation portant sur l'aspect social de la consommation du mil et de sa temporalité. Il s'agira également de définir une épistémologie indigène des matériaux qui repose sur une conception dogon de l’éfficacité matérielle de la potasse, c’est-à-dire, la force intrinsèque de la potasse considérée par les dogons comme l’ensemble de ses propriétés actives qui permettent de soigner, d’assaisonner, de conjurer un sort ou encore de conserver. Par conséquent, en tenant compte des relations matérielles entre les différentes parties du mil dans un contexte social et quotidien plus large, cet article propose de voir tout ce qui se passe lorsque les hommes et les femmes dogons rendent conservable et de voir ce que la potasse fait aux matières et à ceux qui la consomment.

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Texte intégral

Preparing food for conservation in rural Dogon land

  • 1 A quantitative survey to determine the pourcentage of villagers using ashes or chemicals to conserv (...)
  • 2 Issues about socio-economic aspects of millet production, harvest management and consumption have b (...)
  • 3 In the Dogon region, millet is cultivated by hand by use of a hoe while soil is more rarely worked (...)
  • 4 My translation from French.
  • 5 For instance, donkey dung that is scattered on the fields before the rainy season to fertilize the (...)
  • 6 In this paper, I use two short footages that show the making of potash by Rimaabe (Fulbe) women to (...)

Conserving crops and cooked food remains a daily challenge for Dogon rural communities of of the Tengu Kan linguistic area in Mali, West Africa. In the absence of modern technologies and affordable pesticides, the vast majority1 of Dogon men and women of the village of Kani Kombolé resort to locally developed techniques involving ash and potash as a means to overcome daily and long-term conservation issues regarding millet (Pennisetum glaucum), a subsistence and staple crop2 (Figure 1). The Sahelian weather sees long period of chronic drought along with sporadic heavy rains that remain unevenly distributed in space and time. In the Dogon region, soils continuously impoverish and erode making millet cultivation3 increasingly tedious while scanty harvests do not always suffice to feed a growing population (Gado 1993; Jolly 2004; Douny 2014). In addition, pests such as insects and rodents endure pre- and post-harvest threats that imperil the viability of millet, the conservation of which is a key determinant for Dogon’s survival. As Dumestre (1996: 689) points out: “Mali is a country where hunger and even more, the fear of hunger are still existing and unbearable realities4”. In such a context, conserving food enables the population to forestall poor harvests and dearth of food, to ensure future crops through the preservation of selected seeds and to guarantee daily availability of food (Sigaut, 1982). The most effective traditional conservation techniques regarding millet forming a heritage knowledge remain ash and their transformation into vegetal salt or potash. Millet stalk ash allow for conserving millet ears and grains in earth granaries, while millet stalk potash acts as a food preservative when added in daily cooked dishes such as Dogon’s ein nian, a millet-based meal. The term potash, known as ein in Dogon Tengu dialect, refers to both the active property of ash that is defined by the Dogon as an intrinsic ‘force’ (panga na)5 and the matter resulting from the transformation of ash. This alkali salt is produced from leaching hardwood ash (dogné) or in this case, millet stalks. Ash and potash stemming from them are therefore alkaline matters that in addition to conserving, also cure illnesses, and neutralize poisons and witchcraft, and flavour meals and fertilize soils. Furthermore, ash and potash play an important role in transforming raw materials such as unreeling indigenous silk, dyeing cloth in indigo or fermenting adobe to build houses and granaries. Therefore, the benefits of these overarching and generative materials that are produced by older Dogon women are multiple and they pervade many aspects of Dogon daily and ritual life. Finally, potash is also largely produced by Rimaabe (Fulbe) women of the Seno plain and of Western Burkina Faso where I was also able to document the making process6.

1.

1.

Pearl millet or pennisetum glaucum consists of tiny, compact, ovoid grains that develop on an “ear” measuring from an average of 20 cm to 90 cm in length. This subsistence cereal is extensively cultivated throughout the Sahel where it grows relatively fast in extreme climatic conditions with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, and a short rain season characterized by sporadic rainfall. In the Sahel, millet can grow within a period of 140 days on acid and unfertile soils that have a low capacity for water retention.

Photo by Laurence Douny

  • 7 This research on millet conservation techniques through ashes and potash developed from continuous (...)
  • 8 Millet food system per se and the dimension of the social construction of hunger and eating habits (...)

1In this paper7, I propose an ethnography of conservation techniques concerning millet by focusing on technical processes of food conservation by ashes8 that is in the light of three operational sequences of transforming and conserving millet with ashes and potash. These sequences expose Dogon’s production of ashes and potash, the symbolic and practical conservation logics through storing millet ears and grains with ashes in an earth granary and through cooking a millet-based dish with potash. By use of these operational sequences, I show what happens when Dogon men and women prepare crops and food for conservation though highlighting the transformative processes occurring through fire. Therefore, I emphasize implicit forms of meanings about practical and symbolic logics of conserving millet, including magic, as part of a Dogon’s definition and practice of conserving and aspects of ritualization of techniques. Within a Dogon epistemology of materials, I propose that central to our understanding of Dogon’s traditional conservation techniques about millet is Dogon’s understanding of ashes and potash’s material efficacy. This notion rests on first, men and women’s knowledge about ash and potash’s material properties that they refer to as millet’s internal ‘force’ (panga na). According to Zahan, this widespread African belief rests on the principle of a transcendental force that lies in all foodstuffs and that is independent from their physiological force (Zahan, 1995: 114). Second, the notion of material efficacy concerns Dogon’s interpretation of the transformation mechanism of ash which involves a dynamic of material relations occurring between multiple parts of millet plants such as ears, grains and stalks that are transformed. Finally, I conclude on what conservation does to millet and to the people who consume it, by underlining aspects of the temporality of millet, aspects of the social context of Dogon’s conservation technical system and its logic based on recycling of this cereal that overall improves through time owing to ash and potash and that symbolically never ends in the granary or in the eating bowl.

What is happening when one prepares food for conservation: some methodological background

Conserving matter in the Dogon region forms a technical system involving actors, gestures and body movements, the matter acted upon, energy deployed to perform the task, tools, skills and expertise… but also choices, representations, knowledge and beliefs (Lemonnier, 1992: 5-6) that emerged within specific socio-historical context and are constantly developed or adapted by people to new circumstances. Conservation techniques for storing millet in earth granaries proper to Dogon men and conserving cooked food including producing preservative that is carried out by women, are embodied through men and women’s bodily and sensorial experiences of materialities. Conserving as a body technique (Mauss 1973) defines through people’s daily engagement with meaningful materials and substances. As they are ritualized these body techniques are entangled within people’s relationships to the social and invisible world (Douny, 2014). By taking into account indigenous conceptions about conserving foodstuff, I envisage the material dimensions of storing and of transforming millet and millet stalk ashes as a material practice. This I define as a gathering of embodied actions upon matter, upon people as well as upon the invisible world. Conservation techniques called danagou in Dogon Tengu dialect , a term that translates as to ‘place something in good conditions in order to make it long-lasting’ stand as a long enduring ancestral heritage of knowledge, usages, customs and so practices described by the Dogon as atiembe, that is: “what we have found with our ancestors”.

2Detailed observations of Dogon’s conservation practice, gathering in operational sequences regarding conserving millet with ashes, transforming millet stalks into ashes and ashes into potash, and cooking and conserving millet with potash, all highlight implicit forms of meanings that are not always or cannot be verbalized (Lemonnier, 2012). Silent forms of meaning concern for instance, practical logics, indigenous perceptions of matter, and beliefs about materials and their transformation. Operational sequences of conserving food through storing and of preparing a meal with ashes, including the transformation of ashes into potash, enable one to see all that is happening when Dogon men and women prepare millet for conservation. Therefore, from a methodological standpoint, a first level of meaning is uncovered through observing people’s transformation of materials as a technique or a process of efficacious actions upon matter (Leroi-Gourhan 1943-5; Lemonnier 1992) while conserving and so storing and transforming matter. Furthermore, these observations allow identification of ritual actions and thus of symbolic meanings. On a second level, the collection and the examination of the semantics of significant local terms about tools, actions, materials and substances etc, forming a Dogon conservation system, enable me to refine my understanding and analysis of techniques. On a third level, observations supported by linguistics and semantics are complemented by semi-structured interviews that display on the one hand, the full meaning of practical and magico-religious logics of storing and conserving cereals and their transformed forms, and on the other hand Dogon’s epistemologies of materials and concepts of material efficacy that as I argue are central to our understanding of Dogon conservation techniques. A material efficacy defines as the intrinsic properties of materials such as the millet plant that Dogon conceptualize in terms of soul or spiritual principle (kine) (Jolly, 2004: 186), a vital breath (kirin dogoro) that gives vitality to people (makes people breathe and stay alive) and a force (panga na) - that is, their ‘values’ that can be affective or medicinal. This force remains in ashes and is concentrated in potash. Therefore, the panga na of ash and of potash is revealed through series of transformative processes involving fire, starting from the production of ashes through burning off millet straw, heating ash filtrate that is used for cooking millet as well as in the fermentation process triggered by potash as a cooked millet preservative and that revive the kine or soul of millet. By definition, transformation may refer to a process of altering the shape of something or someone, but in Dogon conception, transforming or djaana describes the action of ‘preparing’ in the sense of ‘cooking’ things through fire such as boiling or slow cooking. In a Dogon view, fire does not destroy but it transforms by bringing out the intrinsic force or properties of materials. Then, fermentation activated by potash as another transformative process improves the texture and flavour of millet through cooking it into a thick porridge. Following Steinkraus (1995: 3-4), fermentation enables reduction of cooking time and minimizing fuel requirements. It also enriches cooked millet with protein, vitamins and acids and preserves it. Hence, an examination of the transformative processes occurring in millet conservation through ash helps to understand what matter such as ashes and potash is made off. In addition it brings to light what makes these materials efficacious as they are envisaged by Dogon men and women within material relations, for instance with millet grains and ears. Under this perspective, a material efficacy (Douny, 2015) defines as the intrinsic qualities and properties of ashes in this case, and their capacity of action upon millet, people and sacred objects in preparing millet for conservation. Finally, the production of matter is embedded into social processes and relations (Drazin & Kuechler, 2015) within which materials are selected, transformed, consumed and conserved.

From ashes to potash: the inside of materials

  • 9 Ashes of hardwood are composed of several other components such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3), lime, (...)

In the Dogon region the term ‘potash’ is often used interchangeably for any alkaline substance or matter that therefore tastes bitter, triggers fermentation, strengthens the matter that it contacts, fertilizes and either neutralizes it or brings it back to or extends life. Potash as a vegetal salt (ein) that is made with ashes (dogné) is described as a concentrate of ashes. Vegetal ashes are alkaline residues stemming from burning wood, stalks or other parts of a vegetal. Vegetals and hardwoods in particular are naturally rich in potassium carbonate (K2CO3) 9 and so is potash. In general, the composition of ash varies according to the type of vegetal or wood, their parts (leaf, roots, stalk, etc) and finally the type of soils in which it grows but also the temperature of combustion (Northrop and Connor 2017: 191). In the Dogon region, the ashes of robust stalks of millet (niu kerou) freshly harvested, (Figure 2) stuffed with pulp and sap, are used for conserving crops in earthen granaries and to preserve cooked food. Similarly, ashes are rubbed into animal skins for tanning in order to prevent them from rotting. As pointed out by Issa, an elder of the village of Kani, ashes of various plants are used to counteract the effect of poisons but also that of spells. Ashes stemming from various parts of specific medicinal plants or even animal materials are used differently according to the suspected poisoned element. For instance, the ashes of the embryo of animal mixed with shea butter and massaged onto the forehead of someone who is persecuted by a sorcerer can instantly repel any of their ill-intentioned actions. In a same view, Zahan (1995: 188-119, following Labouret 1931: 285) tells that the Lobi of Burkina Faso use ashes in rituals for stopping rain or abundant menstrual flux. In a manner of a ‘dry barrier’, ashes like smoke but also the heat in cooking and fire enable one to avoid, to repel or to keep entities at a distance as (Zahan 1995: 119). For instance, the smoke of medicinal plants works efficiently in curing illnesses as they are burned on hot charcoals and the fumigation (uguru) rises up on the body. It is also felt to have effects such as bringing luck, reinforcing charisma, protecting against evil spirits or breaking a spell, as the smoke enters and expels bad things through the pores of the skin. In Mande’s conception, plants possess a soul (ni in Bambara language) and the smoke that comes out of vegetal combustion bears its force, that Pageard describes as its nyama that consists of a transformation of the personality of the vegetal (tere) that frees itself from its terrestrial medium (Pageard, 1967: 87). In Dogon Tengu area, similar considerations apply to millet straw ash as dead matter that bears the millet plant’s panga na force that is released through techniques of transforming straw into ashes and then into potash, as we shall see later.

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Once millet has been harvested, stalks are left to dry out in the fields. The multipurpose stalks will serve as fodder for the cattle, not sufficient to feed the cattle through the dry season. Stalks will also serve for building house roofs and granary compartments. The ashes of the most fleshy stalks are used for conserving crops and also pulses such as black eye peas in earth granaries and to preserve cooked food when the ashes are transformed into potash.

Photo by Laurence Douny

3Since ancient times, potash was universally used in alchemical processes. It is obtained through leaching wood ash and boiling the alkaline solution obtained (VIDEO 1 and VIDEO 2). As with ashes, millet potash’s efficacy is recognized in a great number of usages including for its medicinal property. After giving birth, diluted potash or millet liquid porridge containing a small amount of potash (wourou wire) is drank by women to help prevent infections, as potash is said to effect as an antibiotic. Fatoumata Lougué who has been producing potash over the past 30 years explains that: "There is a defensive substance in potash that reacts against any attacks that damages the inside and outside (of things, of people). Potash can annihilate good or evil magical actions through contact (with something touched by magic). Potash consumption strengthens the digestive system because it destroys microbes, it eases digestion (…), purifies blood (…). For us, potash gives a new lease of life, more strength. It is a remedy of great efficacy. We even say that it is a medicine against death (…) because potash cures, averts and protects". Hence, potash is recognized for its purifying properties on organs (parasites) and the skin. Potash is also a remedy against gastric reflux, constipation and bloating when drunk diluted in water, as well as curing rheumatism, cough and tooth aches. Potash can recover food that has soured, such as millet cream and to a certain degree, meat.

  • 10 For instance, making gun powder (ossoro ein), enhancing snuff tobacco (sira), in boiling silk (tome(...)

4Hence, the specificity of potash is that it can instantly counter all that is maleficent and beneficial (Sidiki, 2003: 92). Potash can neutralize substances active in traditional medicines and counteract the power of shrines by countermanding their power (Sidiki, idem). Through being sprinkled with potash, this also applies to places or items suspected of being poisoned by a sorcerer. Finally, when poisoned food has been ingested, potash can help regurgitate the morsel swallowed. There are many other ways10 in which ash and potash are used throughout the Dogon region, such as in conserving cooked food and conserving millet as I shall demonstrate now.

Conserving millet crops in a granary with ashes: the role of men

  • 11 Granaries’ structure, naming, size and compartment systems vary according to the regions and are de (...)
  • 12 For instance, a female granary, recognizable by its domed roof, is often divided into eight compart (...)
  • 13 Ashes of millet burned in a granary fire are thrown on the fields but not consumed as potash. They (...)

Dogon earthen granaries are built by men before the start of the rainy season, using local materials collected from the village surroundings or from re-cycling a collapsed granary. Building materials include earth mixed with organic materials such as fonio straw (Digitaria exilis) and donkey excrement that helps waterproof granary walls. Stones and wood beams are used for the pillars and the structure of the granary and a conical thatched cover protects the structure from heat and rain. Granaries’ openings through which millet is stored are intentionally made small to make the container airtight and as a principle of privacy since the inside contents should not be seen by passers-by and must always remain the secret of the men in the family, to prevent theft (Douny, 2014: 173-175). While millet represents a family’s wealth, a granary stands as a safe in which: “any foreign body is prevented from entering”, as Alpha, a 48 years old cultivator explains, the Dogon millet granary known as go anran embodies the ‘image of the patriarch’ as well as materializing Dogon social organization (Paulme, 1940). Granaries11 are gendered male or female in relation to their owner but also according to the nature of their contents12. Male granaries (Figure 3) that are over two meters high can contain according to Bouju between 80 and one 120 baskets of ears that make between 1,600 and 2,400 kg of grain (Bouju, 1984: 133). In the Seno Gondo plain, granaries are increasingly supplanted by storage rooms called by the French term ‘magasin’ made of mud bricks or stones, closed by a padlocked metal door. These secure structures enable a greater stock capacity but also prevent rare cases of fire that can ignite by dust self-heating13, and theft that is a direct consequence of food scarcity in areas ravaged by the drought. Conservation techniques in granaries are characterized by a series of operations to protect grain and seed from pests and to store them in an adequate environment, in airtight containers (Multon & Sigaut, 1982: 1058). They are exclusively operated by the men of the household under the supervision of the patriarch who is also responsible for the daily management of the stock and the quantity of millet given to women to process and cook.

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Go anran that embodies the image of the patriarch, stands as an element that unifies the family. It feeds an extended family that can count an average of 25 people and around which a whole family gathers as the granary and its personification represent the backbone of the family. Having many full granaries represents the material core of a family and overall the capacity of the patriarch to provide for it.

Photo by Laurence Douny

Pragmatic and symbolic control over pests and other threats

  • 14 My translation.
  • 15 For instance, Sitotroga cerealla and Sitophilus granarius mainly found on the periphery of the stac (...)
  • 16 White ashes from balazan (Faidherbia albida), shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) or néré (Parkia biglo (...)
  • 17 Chemical alternatives such as ‘Sijolan’ (Heptachlore and Thiram) that is produced in Mali and has l (...)
  • 18 However, natural potash tends to be replaced by chemicals that can cover larger surfaces compared t (...)

As Multon and Sigaut (1982: 1057) wrote: ‘a grain store is an artificial ecosystem made by men, constituted by living entities including grain and its predators14’. Dogon’s granary architectonics, techniques of storing and conservation have been developed in order to minimize post-harvest losses engendered by rodents, fire and insects such as termites, ants and other species15 that reappear at times when hygrometry is high, especially from May to October. The infestation often starts in the fields where most pest such as weevils remain invisible to the naked eye because they lay eggs in the kernels, consuming grains (niu saa) from the inside and paving the way for other pests (Guggenheim, 1978: 139, 146). More rarely, water infiltration and sanitary degradation arise in a defective granary by provoking grains to germinate and rot as well as promoting fungal growth. Fungi such as Aspergillus also develop after five years of storage and alter the taste of millet (Guggenheim, 1978: 139). Before storing in a granary, the container structure is carefully checked and the inside space is prepared for storing millet by first dusting all surfaces and corners. Then, the granary is disinfected through fumigation of plant materials such as the pulp of calabash (Lagenaria siceraria) or dry chillies and millet chaff. Ashes of millet stalks16 or bran enable conservation of crops inside a granary17 and are applied to the inside walls of the granary and on the floor to repel insects that colonize and devastate the grains. Plant leaves of bushwillows (Combretum) or neem (Azadirachta indica) are placed among the ears for their pest repellent odour. In addition, ashes symbolically protect millet stocks against witchcraft, for instance when poison aiming to rot millet is introduced inside the container, or poison is applied to the grain to make people sick. It is worth noting that other magico-religious means are deployed to protect the harvest from malevolent entities such as medicinal plants and amulets that are placed in the foundations of a granaries and at the four cardinal points, and an object called go mêrêke known as ‘the soul of the granary’. A go mêrêke may be a statue, a collection of stones or any meaningful artifacts that are placed amongst the ears, often close to the ground and thus the foundation of the container. It also serves to attract the 'soul of millet' (niu kine) to come and rest in the granary and to ensure the fertility of millet. Lastly, when a granary is freshly built, the granary’s owner proceeds to a libation of ashes of millet stalks or bran on top of the granary. This ritual is accompanied by prayers to request God’s protection of future harvests, that the edifice will protect against witchcraft, famine and thus shame, as Ambéré explains, but also to symbolically ensure the fertility of the fields that can be fertilized with stalk ashes18. From a technical point of view, the libation of ashes on the roof protects from termites. Furthermore, a libation of millet cream is applied to one of the granary doors after storing the harvest, for a similar purpose and as part of a wider ritual context and annual celebrations. Hence, magical protection of millet is part of Dogon’s logic and definition of conservation, not just as a symbolic means of preventing disappearance of millet but also of symbolically maintaining its continuous presence in a granary. In this way, magic and the invisible world are an integral part of Dogon reality and cannot be dissociated from Dogon daily life’s practical logic applied here for storing and conservation.

Storing and conserving techniques of millet ears and grains

  • 19 The most common contaminants found in harvested millet ears gathered in bunches are dust and chunks (...)
  • 20 Rats and mice steal crops from the granary that they take to their burrows.
  • 21 I have detailed elsewhere Dogon men’s body techniques in storing millet in a granary (Douny, 2014: (...)

When the harvest is brought in from the fields, infected residues of millet are destroyed in order to avoid contamination19 or the spread of worms. Healthy ears are stored in the granary (Figure 4). The structure and its stock are inspected at least once per week to detect any sign of infestation. Proper storage technique consists of stacking the ears tightly one next to each other in order to avoid gaps between the ears, to maximize storage space capacity and overall to prevent rodents such as mice and rats20from sidling into the granary by entering through the base or the roof, to contaminate the harvest with their dejections and also provoke the collapse of the structure through gnawing entry holes. Men stack millet ears21 by placing the tip of the ears towards the wall and the base that is heavier because of the remaining piece of stalk from where the ear was cut off, towards the center. In this way, the weight of the ears stands in the central part of the granary and prevents pressure from being applying to the walls of the granary that could therefore collapse under the weight of the ears. This stacking technique for millet ears aiming at reducing interstitial space between ears to prevent rodents from moving between them also allows a man to enter the granary without breaking the ears. Hence, properly stored in a granary the doors of which are sealed with mud (Bouju, 1984: 133), millet ears can be preserved for up to a maximum of 5 years. In the 1970’s, Guggenheim pointed out that while some farmers claimed that granary technology could conserve millet for generations without losses, others suffered serious losses of around 60% of their harvest (Guggenheim, 1978: 129).

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Storing millet ears in a granary - Male granaries are filled by a man who accesses the inside of the container through a tiny door located at mid-height and by standing inside the granary where he lays out millet ears that are handed to him by another man standing outside. When almost full, he leaves the structure by the second door located above. Inside the granary, millet ears are stacked very tightly to prevent mice moving between the ears and devastating the harvest.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

  • 22 This type of conservation can be done by men and women as far as grains for cooking are concerned. (...)

5When the harvest is slim and the amount of ears is insufficient to be stored in a large granary, millet is processed and the grains are directly stored in the compartment of a female granary. As far as the grain’s conservation is concerned, potash is widely used. Millet grains are either coated with ashes in a large basin in which it is mixed or they are stored through alternate layers of grains and potash. To keep the matter taut, the layers are compressed by foot. Potash as an effective obstacle against insect infestation by preventing them from eating through grains and causing significant damage to the stock, enables millet grain to be conserved for up to 3 years. Millet seed may be stored in a leather bag placed in a sealed clay pot inside a man’s female granary. They may also be conserved in a clay pot22 in which they are mixed with ashes (Figure 5), topped up with ashes and a piece of cotton cloth imbued with ashes that is covered with fonio straw and ashes, then sealed with mud and a layer of ashes (Figure 6) before being dried in the sun and finally placed in the compartment of a female granary. It is noteworthy that while ashes protect seed, potash neutralizes the living substance of millet seeds that as a consequence, will not germinate.

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Millet grains for daily cooking can be conserved by both men and women as shown here through mixing them with ashes before putting them in a clay pot.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

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6

Clay pots are good alternatives to conserving grains and seeds that are coated with ash. It very important that these containers remain airtight, in order to conserve the grain efficiently. Therefore, the clay pot is sealed with fonio straws, a layer of ashes and mud that is toped up with another layer of ashes to protect against pests.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

6Consequently, ash from millet stalks or hardwood trees in conjunction with other techniques of conservation applied as early as pre-harvest time, constitute an efficient means by which millet harvests are conserved in earthen granaries. Losses are reduced as ashes avert pest infestation, mainly from insects such as ants and termites which mainly damage the outer layer of millet heads (Guggenheim, 1978: 127), and more rarely, molds that are encouraged by a hot and humid climate. Rodents that intrude into defective millet granaries, as well as provoking ruinous damages to the structure and to its contents, are mainly repelled through adequate techniques of storing crops and granary architectonics. Millet stalk ashes that are locally produced and free are commonly used in the village of Kani where most people remain reluctant to using them because they are said to alter the taste of grains when cooked and to provoke diseases. Finally, plant and millet straw ash neutralizes the damaging effects of witchcraft but they can also devitalize the seed while ash that coats grain make them easier to process as ashes soften the millet grain sheath as well as conferring additional flavor to the grain when cooked.

The usage of potash in food conservation: the role of women

  • 23 Ashes may also be produced out of néré (Parkia biglobosa) and baobab trees (Adansonia digitata). Ba (...)

Dogon potash, ein, is mainly produced out of millet stalk ash23 since it is abundant, especially in the Seno Gondo plain where millet is extensively cultivated and where trees become increasingly rare due to desertification, climate change and intensive human activity. Millet potash as a vegetal salt is a soft brownish paste shaped into small balls to be sold by women as a medicine, a condiment and a food preservative. Potash producers ein djaana are generally menopausal women (ya na) who are experienced in this dangerous activity that involves mastering, dosing and adapting fire. While producing potash, women are exposed to the sun, smoke and potash vapours for long hours, resulting in damaging their sight (guiri pogossa) and causing them heart pain (kene nouran). Accidents such as third-degree burns easily arise through carelessness. Therefore, pregnant women and children who are more at risk of accidents are banned from approaching the production sites that are the fields close to the village where millet stalks are burning off and the kitchen where ashes are transformed. As Aissata, a 67 years old producer of potash says: ‘young women would waste their precious time’ since potash making requires around 24 hours to be produced, time not available to young women since they remain busy with various household duties such as tidying up the compound, preparing food three times a day, supplying the household with water and firewood and rearing children. Young girls from puberty until they experience a second childbirth (nien ourroum) and those from second childbirth to menopause (ya sarouwa) are forbidden to produce potash, but can burn stalks and sell ash. In the same symbolic vein, women who are menstruating are required to stay away from the cooking pot because potash is said to neutralize women’s fertility. Finally, Aissata explains that producing potash requires owning special knowledge and skills, knowing quantities and volumes of substances and matters to be used and when to adjust the heat as the matter transforms. Women acquire these techniques, skills and knowledges through long-term experience and diligent observation of the matter being transformed.

Transforming ashes into potash

Once millet harvests have been brought into the village to be dried out in bright sunlight on flat roofs for up to 3 months- on the kitchen roof for instance where ears benefit from conservation through smoke- millet stalks are cut off and laid down for drying. While a large amount of stalks is collected to be stored on top of roofs of shelters, or in the trees as fodder for the cattle during the hot dry season, the remaining amount agreed between a husband and his wife is gathered in one pile in the village proximate fields known as laara. Early in the morning, Dogon women set light to the stalks and leave the ashes (dogné) until they have cooled down (Figure 7). Then, they sweep and collect the ashes with a large calabash (kadiu) in an aluminium basin (toguru) (Figure 8). To prevent the ashes from being blown away by the wind, they sprinkle water on top of the ashes. The remaining ashes on the ground will naturally fertilize the soil. In addition, ashes from firewood used for cooking, if not used for making potash, are then left in the field towards the beginning of the rainy season where they will improve crop yields and also increase millet and sorghum resistance to diseases.

7

7

Early in the morning, Dogon women fire the stalks and leave the ashes until they have cooled down. However, there are variations concerning the timing, depending on the women’s schedule, weather conditions (windy or not) and habits, some women may prefer burning off stalks around sunset and starting collection when sun rises.

Photo by Laurence Douny

8

8

Millet stalks ashes are swept and collected in an aluminum basin. The remaining ashes on the ground will fertilize the soil naturally.

Photo by Laurence Douny

7While some Dogon women prefer storing the ashes directly in a large clay pot (ein teguirin) kept in their kitchen for cooking purpose, others transform the ashes into potash as it saves considerable time. They may also buy solid potash elsewhere especially in areas or at times when millet crops fail and stalks are exclusively used as fodder and as a building material. Before starting to transform the ashes, women request the God’s blessing to assure smooth running of the operations and to obtain a resulting fine quality product. In her explanation, Fatoumata also insists on the fact that this long and tiresome task requires her to be fit, concentrated and determined to see this wearisome operation through until completion. The first step in transforming ashes into solid potash consists of humidifying the ashes (ein bidjesse) for 24 hours. As shown by Fatoumata, in the second step, the highly water-soluble ashes are filtered (tegueresse) by use of a system of two containers (Figure 9). The soaked ashes are poured into an enamel pot with a perforated base (ein tete) that serves as a filter and on top of which large quantities of water (dji kunu) are discharged while the container underneath (guênê) collects the filtered liquid (ein dii) that is charged with salt (Figure 10) and “oozes” (len lan len lan teguesso) as she points out. This process known as lixiviation or slow percolation enables extracting water-soluble particles such as potassium carbonate from ashes, their constituents. In the meantime, Fatoumata sets up a fire on which she places a metallic cooking pot and in which she brings the translucent brownish alkaline solution to a boil (ya tongue ko) and which can however be directly used for cooking thickened millet porridge (Figure 11). As a foam forms on the surface, she decreases the intensity of the heat by removing a glowing log underneath the cooking pot since the liquid threatens to boil over. As water slowly evaporates, the filtrate thickens (ein ya gode ko) and progressively turns into a brownish paste (ein kuroli kôgui) (Figure 12), the colour of which varies according to the kind of stalks or wood that are used. As potash thickens, Fatoumata draws my attention to the sound of bubbling matter that she describes as godo godo godo and that indicates that the potash is nearly formed. By use of a spatula (nian koho), she stirs the thick paste (ein kuru) to prevent the matter from sticking to the walls of the cooking pot. After 4 hours of cooking, she then removes the pot from the fire and leaves the matter to settle and cool down. Finally, she scoops small amounts of potash that she leaves on a thin layer of ashes that she has sprinkled beforehand on the ground in order to let the matter dry and harden (ein karamu). She adds that the malleable matter may also be cooked again subsequently for another 4 hours until complete desiccation, to obtain a harder form of potash (Figure 13) that is easier to transport and sell on the market because of its compact form. However, she points out that regardless what the state of the matter is, potash immediately liquefies at the arrival of the rainy season, at a time when the air is charged with humidity. Hence, potash as a concentrate of ashes is obtained through lixiviation and desiccation processes that enable women to extract millet plants’ force panga na and so their main active principle: potassium carbonate or potash, an alkaline salt that enhances the taste of food, heals, conserves and neutralizes evil spells and poison.

9

9

The filtering of ashes, lixiviation or slow percolation process is carried out with two containers: one that is perforated and in which the ashes and the water are poured and a second container, here a clay pot placed underneath, that collects the filtrate.

Photo by Laurence Douny

10

10

The resulting ashwater is either boiled to obtain solid potash, or it can be used as such in preparing porridge preparation.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

11

11

The bitter potash solution is brought to a boil. When a foam forms on its surface, the intensity of fire must be reduced in order to prevent the liquid overflowing.

Photo by Laurence Douny

12

12

The matter thickens and progressively turns into a brownish paste, the colour of which varies according to the kind of stalks or wood that are used. For instance, ashes of balanzan, shea and baobab tree are white while millet stalks that are very bitter produce stronger and dark brown-black ash.

Photo by Laurence Douny

13

13

Potash, here shown in its dry-solid form (re-cooked), helps to loosen bran and make porridge more digestible. Potash enables conservation of porridge for 3 days during the hot dry season and 5 days during wintering, compared to thickened millet porridge that is pounded and does not contain potash that goes off in less than 24 hours. Potash as an alkaline salt enhances food flavour but is also used as a medicine, a ferment in brewing and as reinforcement of the strength of tobacco powder.

Photo by Laurence Douny

Making ‘ein nian’ millet porridge with potash

  • 24 The other form of stiffed porridge results from pounded millet.
  • 25 Some women may prefer decorticating (dehulling) millet kernel first before grinding it. Grounding m (...)
  • 26 made from pounded millet stiff porridge can be made acidic (acid PH: 0.4) by adding tamarind jui (...)

A popular Dogon proverb that says that « the best spouse is the one that cooks millet porridge well», not only emphasizes women’s usefulness in cooking activities and more generally in maintaining the household, but also Dogon’s great appreciation of millet. Transforming and cooking millet with potash that is framed within a broader sequence of domestic tasks is a long and laborious operation that requires deployment of considerable energy, physical strength, concentration, skills and knowledge for processing large quantities of cereals, starting from grinding to vigorously mixing porridge. The ein nian dish that comes with a leaf-based sauce including potash and that is prepared for an average of 20 people requires between 5 and 6 kg of grain24. Once millet has been winnowed by used of a calabash (kadji pi) in order to remove impurities such as dust, sand and tiny gravels, the grain is ground25 on a rectangular flat stone (nouné- in) that is placed in a shadowy area of the courtyard free from drafts of air and by use of a hand-held elongated stone (sometimes a large flat pebble) (Figure 14). This portable technology is removed after the operation is completed and put back against the wall of the owner’s house or sometimes it may be gathered with other women’s mills. To that extent, Hamon and Le gall (2013: 119) have demonstrated the relation between the use of a quern, the social context, the places of grinding activities and the distribution of tasks amongst women in the domestic space in Mynianka communities of Mali. Symbolic values are attached to processing techniques of millet that ‘keep millet alive’ when the cereal is pounded by use of a pestle and mortar, or ‘kill’ the grain when it is ground on a quern (Cartry 1987, 173 footnote 32; Jolly 2004, 126). Further, in this symbolic logic of millet transformation, the addition of potash to the dough revives the cereal and brings out its properties. In terms of the praxeology involved in grinding millet, Yabinta kneels down behind the stone mill with her knees touching the stone and places a handful of millet in its center. Yabinta grinds the cereal by applying high pressure on the hand-held stone and moving it backward and forward on the flat stone. As Hamon and Gall describe (2013: 115), to operate the task, a woman: “uses the full weight of her upper body to apply force on the grinder, and not only using the force of her arms and shoulders”. The repeated movement rapidly exhausts her, although she is used to performing the task and benefits from the help of other women of the household who step in as a relay. The resulting flour (puran) that retains cereal germs (nieke) and bran (yoro) is collected in a calabash placed at the other end of the quern. It is sieved in order to separate the germs that need to be cooked first because they are harder (Figure 15). Before putting the cooking pot on three stones under which she slides a large log of wood wrapped in thin branches that will serve to start the fire, she invokes God by pronouncing the formula ‘missimilahi’, requesting his benevolence in achieving the task. Yabinta fills the pot with water near to boiling, by lighting up the branches with a bunch of incandescent straws. Then, she first pours the cereal germs in the boiling water that she leaves to cook for about 15 minutes and adds to the liquid a lump of potash (about 15 gr) that quickly melts (Figure 16) and disintegrates the germs. Alternatively, as I previously mentioned, Dogon women may also directly use ash that they scoop from a 'pot ash’ (ein teguirin) that they filter on the spot. The resulting filtrate is then added to the boiling water26. When the foam produced by the potash instantaneously formed at the surface of the liquid has dissipated, she pours the flour into the cooking pot (Figure 17) and leaves it until it becomes completely submerged and rises. In the meantime, Yabinta prepares the sauce with water, powdered baobab leaves, chili powder, some dried fish and a piece of dried potash. When the smell of ein nian emanates, she removes the lid and vigorously stirs it with a wooden paddle (nian - pô) to homogenize the thick yellowish paste (Figure 18) and leaves it to settle for 5 minutes before scooping out portions of porridge to fill the large communal eating bowl (Figure 19) or platter (bandia) in which the porridge is left to cool down for a good 15 minutes. Ein nian can keep in the absence of a fridge for 3 days during the hot dry season and 5 days during winter conditions through the action of the potash that also makes porridge and the sauce more digestible, especially if the sauce is made with young leaves, for instance the sprouts of black eye peas (Vigna unguiculata) that gives the sauce a more than usually gluey texture. Finally, in her explanation of ein nian preparation, Yabinta underlines the organoleptic properties of potash as a form of salt that enhances the taste and nutrient value of the sauce and of the porridge, as potash ‘opens’ the ingredients by softening and loosing the bran. Potash does not only allow full taste to be released but it also alters the colour of porridge and sauce and improves their texture. Ein nian as a hand-eaten dish is felt and pre-tasted on the palm of the hand before being brought to the mouth and tasted by the papilla.

14

14

Millet grain is ground on a rectangular flat stone and by use of an elongated hand-held stone. Grinding is a task that requires considerable physical strength and the women of the family very often relay each other. All parts of the grain, for instance the precious bran, are kept making the dish ein niam very nutritious.

Photo by Laurence Douny

15

15

Millet is a highly nutritious and energetic cereal, perceived as a ‘living’ material. Compared to any other crops and pulses grown on their land such as fonio, sorgho, groundnuts or beans, millet is the only cereal that can be consumed for 12 months without making people bored or sick. Furthermore, millet can be cooked as fried pancakes, couscous, under a form of liquid and thickened porridge also known as tô. For those reasons, millet remains the Dogon means of subsistence and a symbol of identity.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

16

16

Potash is added to the boiling germs of the cereal that are always cooked before the flour to allow the hard matter to disintegrate. Potash also plays a role in softening the germs.

Photo by Laurence Douny

17

17

Yabinta pours the flour in the cooking pot where the matter absorbs the water and rises, giving her time to check on the sauce.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

18

18

The thick yellowish paste is vigorously stirred by used of a wooden paddle in order to homogenize the ein nian and making sure that all flour is cooked and risen.

Photo by Salif Sawadogo

19

19

Ein nian is served in the large communal eating bowl on top of which a smaller bowl of sauce is placed. In their calculation, women generally provide for two extra adult visitors as a means to respond adequately in both unannounced and regular circumstances. Thickened millet porridge must keep for a couple of days in order to meet the needs of the family and visitors.

Photo by Laurence Douny

The logic of conserving cooked food with potash

  • 27 100 kg of millet cost 18,0000 cfa as per 2017.

Given recurrent situations of scarcity in the Dogon region, millet dishes that take two forms, a liquid millet cream and a stiffed porridge, are alternated in order to balance the consumption of the cereal and therefore to avoid squandering this important food resource. In most families, thickened porridge or ‘tô’ is cooked every three to five days. Millet cream made with reduced quantities of flour, and other meals made with beans and groundnuts grown by the women of the family, fonio and occasionally rice that may be grown by the men or remain affordable in some areas27 are prepared more frequently.

8Women cook ein nian having in mind the number of family members to feed and always have food to hand for potential guests and overall to satisfy the appetite of demanding small children outside meal times and over the next couple of days. As Dumestre underlines, in Mali, having food around is almost an obsession and eating well equals eating a lot (Dumestre, 1996: 690). Filling up one’s stomach compares to filling up the body of a granary to guarantee tomorrow (Zahan, 1995: 113). Dogon sense of hospitality emphasis their concerns about the wellbeing of their guests and results in shame if the guests are not accommodated according to local customs, including first offering water to drink, a clean place to sleep and serving food shortly after the visitors arrival. As Dumestre observes, a well-fed guest is a well-primed guest. Hence, hosts will always insist that their guests eat more (Dumestre, 1996: 690). But in case of shortfall of millet, food is of course prioritized for children over visitors. Ein nian is consumed within 3 or 5 days as reheated, but also re-cycled under a new form called nian lougu that consists of millet thickened porridge mixed with water. First the water is drunk and then the porridge is eaten. The naturally fermented mix is said to give energy and to overcome vitamin deficiencies. Potash is responsible for this fermentation process that improves organoleptic properties of millet over time, conserves the matter and provides many health benefits. In addition, potash can also recover a dish or for instance a sauce that would have gone deteriorated rapidly due to the climate.

What conservation does to matter and to people

We have seen that techniques of conservation of millet grain and of preparation of local dishes traditionally involve the use of ashes and potash. These techniques form a heritage requiring men and women’s continual close observation of stocks and of transformation processes of matter occurring through fire and fermentation. They deal separately with the conservation of millet ears, grains and seeds and the preservation of one of its cooked forms. Hence, within a patriarchal family model, conservation and the production of ashes and of potash are allocated based on gender, age and status. Operational sequences have enabled me to highlight transformative processes and implicit forms of meanings about millet conservation such as the use of magic, aspects of ritualization of tasks and Dogon’s conception of matter. In this view, materials cannot be dissociated from the socio-cultural and natural environment in which they are produced and used (Kuechler & Drazin, 2015). Transformation processes highlight women’s knowledge about the matter being transformed, through their systematic monitoring of matter while changing state. They also show material relations between multiple parts of the millet plant, as ash and potash are produced out of the recycling of millet straw that serve to conserve and preserve millet ears, seeds, grains and their cooked form. Then, operational sequences uncover deep localized meanings and indigenous epistemology of materials such as ashes and potash’s material efficacy including their medicinal properties, and inherent force. In Dogon’s conception of materials, ash acts as a barrier to pests while potash neutralizes spells, poison, illness, shrines, seeds, etc…that is, it deactivates and desacralizes (Sidiki, 2003: 92). As incorporated into millet porridge, potash improves its taste, digestibility and it releases millet health benefits through loosening its bran. Finally, in conservation techniques with ashes and potash, the linear temporality and finitude of millet are denied, since ashes are believed to conserve endlessly in a granary, but men end it by emptying the container. Potash preserves cooked millet until people are replete and it improves millet over days. Potash as food and a medicine extends life and counteracts death, but at the same time it can cause degradation and death. Hence, in a context of scarcity, conservation comforts men and women with the thought that millet will never end.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 A quantitative survey to determine the pourcentage of villagers using ashes or chemicals to conserve millet in granaries has yet to be done.

2 Issues about socio-economic aspects of millet production, harvest management and consumption have been extensively developed by Jacky Bouju (1984) and Eric Jolly’s (2004) in their monographs.

3 In the Dogon region, millet is cultivated by hand by use of a hoe while soil is more rarely worked by an ox drawn-riding plough, for those who can afford to buy the technology and providing a relatively low yield of between 200 et 500 kg/ha. In 2016, in Mali 1,927 tones of millet were produced (FAO) http://www.fao.org/giews/countrybrief/country.jsp?code=MLI

4 My translation from French.

5 For instance, donkey dung that is scattered on the fields before the rainy season to fertilize the soils is referred to as ‘potash’, a generic term that refers to the fertilizing property of the matter.

6 In this paper, I use two short footages that show the making of potash by Rimaabe (Fulbe) women to illustrate the lixiviation process and change of state of substances into matter. These footages are in phase with what I observed with Dogon women of Kani at the difference that the utensils for filtering ashes differ from a woman to another.

7 This research on millet conservation techniques through ashes and potash developed from continuous fieldwork that was conducted in 2003-2004, then in 2005 in the context of my PhD dissertation (The Wenner-Gren Foundation). Further data were collected between 2009 and 2012 on potash as a part of a postdoctoral fellowship (The Leverhulem Trust). They were updated in 2014.

8 Millet food system per se and the dimension of the social construction of hunger and eating habits framed within a historical account of food crisis and famines in the Sahel and the Dogon region were developed in a previous publication (Douny 2014). These themes are also touched upon by Bouju (1984) and Jolly (2004) in their ethnographies on millet.

9 Ashes of hardwood are composed of several other components such as calcium carbonate (CaCO3), lime, potash, lye, and magnesium oxide, iron oxide, manganese oxide. Trace amounts of phosphate and micronutrients like iron, copper and zinc.

10 For instance, making gun powder (ossoro ein), enhancing snuff tobacco (sira), in boiling silk (tome), making an indigo dye bath (gara) and soap (samara), in fermenting millet beer (Dieterlen & Calame-Griaule, 1960: 74; Jolly 2004).

11 Granaries’ structure, naming, size and compartment systems vary according to the regions and are developed according to people’s needs.

12 For instance, a female granary, recognizable by its domed roof, is often divided into eight compartments that contain women’s crops such as beans and groundnuts but also their personal belongings and cooking utensils. Other female granaries belonging to men may be used to store millet ears of an exceptional quality for their seed and for rituals or simply to stock the remaining ears of the harvest that do not fill an entire male granary that is exclusively used for storing millet ears.

13 Ashes of millet burned in a granary fire are thrown on the fields but not consumed as potash. They are known as cassara dogné (ashes of catastrophe).

14 My translation.

15 For instance, Sitotroga cerealla and Sitophilus granarius mainly found on the periphery of the stack of ears, under the roof and along the walls (Guggenheim, 1978: 135). Also, Trogoderma granarium, Corcyra cephalonica, Rhizopertha dominica and Tribolium castenum and confusum, especially for grains stored in ‘magazins’ in town and in warehouses (see for instance Guggenheim, 1978: 122, 146).

16 White ashes from balazan (Faidherbia albida), shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) or néré (Parkia biglobosa) can also be used a natural local pesticide in conjuncture with fumigation and other techniques.

17 Chemical alternatives such as ‘Sijolan’ (Heptachlore and Thiram) that is produced in Mali and has low toxicity to men and animal are used and hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) based chemicals (Paranjape K. et al, 2015: 251; FAO, 1987). However, some insects genetically adapt to pesticides and become resistant (Sigaut, 1978: 55).

18 However, natural potash tends to be replaced by chemicals that can cover larger surfaces compared to vegetal ash that requires producing a lot of plant materials.

19 The most common contaminants found in harvested millet ears gathered in bunches are dust and chunks of soil, straws and sticks of wood, tiny stones, leaves, broken seeds, husks, insects, animal hair and excreta, pieces of plastic, paper and metals…etc.

20 Rats and mice steal crops from the granary that they take to their burrows.

21 I have detailed elsewhere Dogon men’s body techniques in storing millet in a granary (Douny, 2014: 169-173).

22 This type of conservation can be done by men and women as far as grains for cooking are concerned. Conserving crop seeds remain the task of men.

23 Ashes may also be produced out of néré (Parkia biglobosa) and baobab trees (Adansonia digitata). Baobab potash (pro lou) is filtered but is not brought to a boil and is far less bitter than other kinds of ashes.

24 The other form of stiffed porridge results from pounded millet.

25 Some women may prefer decorticating (dehulling) millet kernel first before grinding it. Grounding millet on a flat stone takes around 1h30.

26 made from pounded millet stiff porridge can be made acidic (acid PH: 0.4) by adding tamarind juice (Burkina Faso) or is made alkaline (Dogon region) only when millet is ground (Alkaline PH: 8.2) (http://www.fao.org/3/a-av009e.pdf/ Silas T.A.R Kajuna, 2001: 31 for PH details and geographical variations).

27 100 kg of millet cost 18,0000 cfa as per 2017.

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Table des illustrations

Titre 1.
Légende Pearl millet or pennisetum glaucum consists of tiny, compact, ovoid grains that develop on an “ear” measuring from an average of 20 cm to 90 cm in length. This subsistence cereal is extensively cultivated throughout the Sahel where it grows relatively fast in extreme climatic conditions with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius, and a short rain season characterized by sporadic rainfall. In the Sahel, millet can grow within a period of 140 days on acid and unfertile soils that have a low capacity for water retention.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Titre 2
Légende Once millet has been harvested, stalks are left to dry out in the fields. The multipurpose stalks will serve as fodder for the cattle, not sufficient to feed the cattle through the dry season. Stalks will also serve for building house roofs and granary compartments. The ashes of the most fleshy stalks are used for conserving crops and also pulses such as black eye peas in earth granaries and to preserve cooked food when the ashes are transformed into potash.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Titre 3
Légende Go anran that embodies the image of the patriarch, stands as an element that unifies the family. It feeds an extended family that can count an average of 25 people and around which a whole family gathers as the granary and its personification represent the backbone of the family. Having many full granaries represents the material core of a family and overall the capacity of the patriarch to provide for it.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Titre 4
Légende Storing millet ears in a granary - Male granaries are filled by a man who accesses the inside of the container through a tiny door located at mid-height and by standing inside the granary where he lays out millet ears that are handed to him by another man standing outside. When almost full, he leaves the structure by the second door located above. Inside the granary, millet ears are stacked very tightly to prevent mice moving between the ears and devastating the harvest.
Crédits Photo by Salif Sawadogo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-4.jpg
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Titre 5
Légende Millet grains for daily cooking can be conserved by both men and women as shown here through mixing them with ashes before putting them in a clay pot.
Crédits Photo by Salif Sawadogo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-5.jpg
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Titre 6
Légende Clay pots are good alternatives to conserving grains and seeds that are coated with ash. It very important that these containers remain airtight, in order to conserve the grain efficiently. Therefore, the clay pot is sealed with fonio straws, a layer of ashes and mud that is toped up with another layer of ashes to protect against pests.
Crédits Photo by Salif Sawadogo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Titre 7
Légende Early in the morning, Dogon women fire the stalks and leave the ashes until they have cooled down. However, there are variations concerning the timing, depending on the women’s schedule, weather conditions (windy or not) and habits, some women may prefer burning off stalks around sunset and starting collection when sun rises.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Titre 8
Légende Millet stalks ashes are swept and collected in an aluminum basin. The remaining ashes on the ground will fertilize the soil naturally.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-8.jpg
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Titre 9
Légende The filtering of ashes, lixiviation or slow percolation process is carried out with two containers: one that is perforated and in which the ashes and the water are poured and a second container, here a clay pot placed underneath, that collects the filtrate.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre 10
Légende The resulting ashwater is either boiled to obtain solid potash, or it can be used as such in preparing porridge preparation.
Crédits Photo by Salif Sawadogo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre 11
Légende The bitter potash solution is brought to a boil. When a foam forms on its surface, the intensity of fire must be reduced in order to prevent the liquid overflowing.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k
Titre 12
Légende The matter thickens and progressively turns into a brownish paste, the colour of which varies according to the kind of stalks or wood that are used. For instance, ashes of balanzan, shea and baobab tree are white while millet stalks that are very bitter produce stronger and dark brown-black ash.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre 13
Légende Potash, here shown in its dry-solid form (re-cooked), helps to loosen bran and make porridge more digestible. Potash enables conservation of porridge for 3 days during the hot dry season and 5 days during wintering, compared to thickened millet porridge that is pounded and does not contain potash that goes off in less than 24 hours. Potash as an alkaline salt enhances food flavour but is also used as a medicine, a ferment in brewing and as reinforcement of the strength of tobacco powder.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre 14
Légende Millet grain is ground on a rectangular flat stone and by use of an elongated hand-held stone. Grinding is a task that requires considerable physical strength and the women of the family very often relay each other. All parts of the grain, for instance the precious bran, are kept making the dish ein niam very nutritious.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre 15
Légende Millet is a highly nutritious and energetic cereal, perceived as a ‘living’ material. Compared to any other crops and pulses grown on their land such as fonio, sorgho, groundnuts or beans, millet is the only cereal that can be consumed for 12 months without making people bored or sick. Furthermore, millet can be cooked as fried pancakes, couscous, under a form of liquid and thickened porridge also known as tô. For those reasons, millet remains the Dogon means of subsistence and a symbol of identity.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre 16
Légende Potash is added to the boiling germs of the cereal that are always cooked before the flour to allow the hard matter to disintegrate. Potash also plays a role in softening the germs.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre 17
Légende Yabinta pours the flour in the cooking pot where the matter absorbs the water and rises, giving her time to check on the sauce.
Crédits Photo by Salif Sawadogo
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-17.jpg
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Titre 18
Légende The thick yellowish paste is vigorously stirred by used of a wooden paddle in order to homogenize the ein nian and making sure that all flour is cooked and risen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre 19
Légende Ein nian is served in the large communal eating bowl on top of which a smaller bowl of sauce is placed. In their calculation, women generally provide for two extra adult visitors as a means to respond adequately in both unannounced and regular circumstances. Thickened millet porridge must keep for a couple of days in order to meet the needs of the family and visitors.
Crédits Photo by Laurence Douny
URL http://journals.openedition.org/tc/docannexe/image/8850/img-19.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 94k
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Référence électronique

Laurence Douny, « Conserving Millet through Potash : Towards a Dogon Epistemology of Materials », Techniques & Culture [En ligne], Suppléments au n°69, mis en ligne le 07 juin 2018, consulté le 17 juin 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/tc/8850

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Auteur

Laurence Douny

Honorary Research Fellow Anthropology/UCL. ldouny@hotmail.com. l.douny@ucl.ac.uk
Laurence Douny is an anthropologist who has been conducting extensive field research since 2001 on the ecology of the Sahelian landscape and West African material culture, in particular in the Dogon region of Mali. Her work focuses on the anthropology of techniques, designs and materials that she has published in several papers and a book ‘Living in a landscape of scarcity : materiality and cosmology in West Africa’(Left Coast Press/Routledge, 2014). Potash is a common theme that emerged from her fieldwork on food, indigenous silk and indigo dying techniques that she has investigated in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Northern Nigeria. She is currently research affiliate at ULB, Belgium and Honorary research fellow at UCL (UK).

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