What happens when a colonizer visits the court of an African King in the 19th century? How do the two cultures collide? Below is a description of an audience at the court of the great king Samori Touré, by the French commander Marie Étienne Péroz who even wrote a book later “Au Soudan français : souvenirs de guerre et de mission,” C. Lévy, 1889. As you can see, the European man is in awe at what he sees in court, the arrangement, and most importantly the calm confidence and simplicity emanating from Samori Touré. Also note the importance of Samori’s griot, Ansoumana, “without whom no decision is taken.” Enjoy! The original in French can be found on p. 281 of Les Africains, Vol.1, Editions du Jaguar, 1977. The English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.
The number of important personalities who had been summoned to it [the meeting], the riches and the pomp of the occasion, indicated the importance the almamy attached to it.
We were, ourselves, very impressed by the skill of the décor of which the original setting of the mosque, dungeon, high huts and ramparts of the palace had been done to enhance its brilliance (beauty). We slowly get closer, guided by Karamoko, towards the large canopy which shelters the Almamy and its court.
The Almamy is half lying on an elevated tara where blankets with bright patterns are piled up. He is simply dressed: Moorish boots, a black turban, a dark-colored caftan under which can be seen a white boubou. His headgear, a kind of diadem in finely chiseled gold and a necklace of the same metal deliciously crafted are the only insignia revealing his rank. His entourage, on the contrary, sitting on very low armchairs, brings out the severity of this costume by means of garments in showy colors in which they are clothed: this variegation of colors gives a warm tone to the entire scene. On his left, squatting on the ground and against his tara, Ansoumana, his family griot, without whom no decision is taken: he is wearing a blue boubou, and a black smock. Then, on the same side, Kissi, the head of treasury, whose green boubou constellated with grigris, throws the first happy note.
Samory does not get up when we dismount [from the horse]. We stop in front of him after greeting him and he extends his hand in a very affable way. From all sides explode the raucous accents of the horns, adding into the hum of the tam-tams, and the rumbling of the Almamy’s war drum. […]
The dreadful noise of instruments of all kinds greeting our arrival prevents at the beginning of all conversation, and covers the words of welcome he addresses us in a veiled tone; thus do we take this reprieve to admire in all sincerity the striking spectacle taking place in front of us.
What strikes us at first sight is the form he affects as a whole: the crescent. Just as his entourage is arranged in such a way which may appear to be the results of chance, but which, in reality, is very skillfully calculated so as to form a happy harmony of colors and forms, just as the security escorts of the different leaders who accompany him form in front of his dais a perfect half-oval, which leaves between him and them a vast place covered with white sands brought in from the river.