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We Have No Word for Sex

Book Review

copyright © 1997 by Bert H. Hoff

Malidoma and Sobonfu Somé, We Have No Word for Sex: An Indigenous View of Intimacy. (Pacific Grove, CA: Oral Tradition Archives, 1994)(audio tape) Click here to order direct from MenWeb.

From the Oral Traditions catalog:

In this live presentation, Malidoma Somé and his wife Sobonfu take us into the Dagara village and give us their tribal view of intimacy, relatioinships and marriage. For a subject as overworked as sex, here are some fascinating and important lessons from the heart that are as fresh and relevant as they are ancient.

2 tapes, 120 minutes, $17.95

Hear a MP3 excerpt

Click here
to order.

Malidoma Somé,
Book cover
The Healing Wisdom of Africa
Finding Life Purpose Through Nature Ritual and Community

book cover
Of Water and the Spirit

   Audio Cassette

Sobonfu Somé,
The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships

Last week, one of our poets announced in the Seattle M.E.N. Poetry Circle, "You have got to read this book!" He was referring to Malidoma Somé’s Of Water and the Spirit (reviewed earlier by Shepherd Bliss in our magazine, revised and reprinted in Yoga Journal.) Malidoma, as many of our readers know, means in the Dagara tribal language, "be friendly to strangers/enemies." Sobonfu means "keeper of the rituals." You also need to know that their village was in Upper Volta (as their tribal land was split by arbitrary colonial boundaries into Upper Volta, Ghana and the Ivory Coast in West Africa) until the national leaders shed the colonial mantle in the 70s and called it Burkina Faso, "Land of the Proud Ancestors."

So what happens when the person whose mission from birth is to "be friendly to enemies" marries the "keeper of the rituals"? That is the topic of this tape. Malidoma came to the West and earned two PhDs, although he feels his most powerful learning was in the initiation rite he describes in his book. Meanwhile, just after Sobonfu completed her initiation as "keeper of the ritual" she was called into the circle of tribal Elders and told she should marry this man who had gone to the West. Her parents could not help her, so after three months she went and sat on her grandmother’s grave. The voice told her, "do it!" So she was married. In the Dagara tradition, Malidoma didn’t need to be there. (His protestations, "I would have liked to be there" gives rise to delightful banter on the tape.) A year later, Malidoma returns to the village and meets his wife. His perspective: "You have to start at the bottom of the hill. If you start at the top, all you can do is circle around the top, or go downhill."

Sobonfu’s gift to the relationship, as they met as husband and wife and total strangers, was to know how to create a sacred space and build an intimate relationship in that space. When she said, "We need to know how to empower each other" the audience broke out in spontaneous applause. She knew how to spread the ashes in a sacred circle, and bring the calabash of water into the circle. With that invocation, something inside automatically unlocks. "It’s like we’ve known each other forever," Malidoma states. Learning and wisdom expand. There’s no "spread the ashes quickly, hurry up with the gourd of water, you’re beautiful and the hormones are running." Instead, there is a postponement of pleasure and a total evaporation of the "I" into the collective space. A tie into the intimate relationship between the tribe and its ancestors, and between you and the tribal community. Being caught up in the beauty and the hormonal drive, the tribal youngsters are taught, is like eating poisonous ice cream. The first few licks taste great, then you’re dead.

This is just from the first side of the first tape. The tape continues with further insights. Intimacy is not something to share in public. You need to recognize you don’t know what you’re doing, and move into a private ritual space, where spirit can enter and guide you. Men who are seduced by Western culture, travel to a distant city to work, have an affair, and return to their village, then pollute their spouse. Someone is dead within 72 hours, even though he thought his city affair was so distant that nobody would know. The tape presents a unique, thought-provoking and inspiring world-view. Not in some New Age mumbo- jumbo, but at a practical, down-to-earth conversational style, as if you were swapping views of your neighborhood school as you were sitting around your living room. But what they’re saying is so rich and profound you’ll be thinking about it long after you finished listening to the tape. This is a tape you’ll come back to, share with friends, and listen to again and again.

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