Jawiya Koy

Jawiya Koy

Jawiya koy
from a mispronunciation of the arabic word zawia meaning a place (house or whole neighbourhood) of repose where travelers, students, and others could stay and find meals and koy the Songai word for proprietor, thus the sheik or chief responsible for such a place who financed it and often offered charity to, or took care of debts of, the impoverished who made use of it. At one period in the region's history the wealthy and charitable leaders who maintained such places were held in high regard and are numbered among the saints of Timbuktu today. Chereef are close loyal suporters of the prophet who came to north Africa durning the early days of Islamic expansion and among them are the Haidara, a family name given to people who claim descendant from the prophet Mohamed. These people as a whole and the Haidara in particular are also held in high regard felt to be morally superior to the average. Historically and even today they make up a large part of the erudite and spiritual leaders or the area.

There are a certain number of people who are considered semi-saint, often descended from families boasting historical members renowned as erudite, sage, or spiritual such as the jawara koy and cherif. These people however tend to be slightly out side the norm: they are socially awkward, slightly “touched”, mildly mentally delayed or even a faintly crazy, yet generally held in esteem and treated with respect. Though they come from illustrious backgrounds they are now poor or destitute. However they manage to live on the kindness of strangers as it were. Many are the charitable who ofter them a meal or some money, enough to permit them to live with a full belly and a roof over their head if the wish.

They have a sort of naivete that lends a sort of purity or innocence to their actions and they tend to gravitate towards people who are upright and dignified who are honest and respectful, generous and kind. There is often an unspoken honour in being frequented by such people as it is said they would not visit anyone who was amoral. The more one is sought out by such people the probable it is that you are impeccable character. It could be that they learn to stay away from those who would mock or ill-use them, while kind people overlook the foibles of their character out of pity if nothing else. Their almost childlike sense of justice and right and wrong certainly plays a role for while they may forgive unkindnesses they do not forget and will not willingly subject themselves again to it.

There are superstitions with some of them that if you do him or her an ill-turn it will come back to slap you in the face but if you are desperate straights (for example dealing with an inexplicable or untreatable illness) promise of some gift to one of these people will often bring your wish to fruition, but be sure you follow through on your promise afterwards, whether it be a sac of millet or a simple scarf or you may see a quick reversal of your new fortune. Such donations help with their expenses.

We are often surrounded by people of this category. Added to the family at most every meal are a sprinkling of eccentric sorts, some more so than others. Some have families and homes but somehow gravitate to us, Some have little in the way of relations, at least in the city, and sojourn with us for weeks or months before returning to the desert or a more distant village.

One such has a very sensitive nature. In his youth he was part of the national orchestra of Mali but it seams his nature was not cut out for such worldly activities. Now he lives in the north hand-to-mouth, day-to-day yet happy in his simple way. He gives out warnings for rather unimportant things or things so obvious we are clearly aware, yet we simply listen to him and agree for to do anything else would be cruel. It is part of his nature. Not long ago he disappeared for a few days and then just a couple days ago he showed up again. He came to me and explained that he had lost 6000 f (about $12). He had received them during the wedding of our niece or else put them in the pocket of his new outfit that he had received on the occasion of the wedding of our niece it wasn't clear. However they must have fallen out of his pocket that was much too shallow to be practical. Either no one saw it fall until it was too late to know who it belonged to or someone decided keep it anyhow or someone picked his pocket he didn't know which but he said “some people have no pity”. The loss didn't happen at our house but it made him so heart sick that he went off for a few days. They impression I got was not the actual money that was so important to him but the cruelty of people who would steal it.

We never expect any contribution from these people when they stay with us. We have a lot of visitors a lot of the time; many are well well off with bigger houses than ours, fancy cars with all the bells and whistles, large salaries or successful enterprises. Despite their material wealth they seem to prefer the natural openness found with us, they drink large quantities of tea and snack on what we have available or join us for break-fast during Ramadan yet few ever even ofter to contribute so much as packet of tea; why then should we expect more of the impoverished souls who visit us.

Today however this man who had last week lost the only 6000 francs that he had, today acquired a medium sized goat and offered it to us. That it be butchered and the meat shared that everyone have a taste. Thus it was done, a chunk going off to several families in the neighborhood and the rest grilled up here where all who were present were enjoined to partake thereof. No he may be poor but it is not his soul which is impoverished.