21 November 2007

Burkina Faso: Burkinabe Film Re-Tells Classic Folk Story

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Washington, DC — Sia, The Dream of the Python is a movie, portraying the classic folk story about sacrifice for the greater good. Burkina Faso filmmaker Dani Kouyate puts a unique twist on the play by Mauritanian writer Moussa Diagana. The story takes place in the fictional city of Koumbi in the Kingdom of Wagadu, with the emperor the Kaya Maghan ( Kardigue Laico Traore ) at rule. In the movie, Sia Yatabere ( Fatoumata Diawara ) is chosen as the beautiful, noble, virgin girl who must be sacrificed to the Python-God in return for the prosperity of the country. A messenger tells Sia's parents that in return they will receive Sia's weight in gold. Sia overhears and flees to Kerfa ( Hamadoun Kassogue ) the local "madman" of the town. Kerfa is a unique, witty, and prophet-like character. He is known for openly speaking out against the Kaya, and his rule. The emperor sends the head of the armies, Wakhane ( Sotigui Kouyate ) to track down Sia (who is engaged to Wakhane's nephew, Mamadi) and her family and friends. Even though the people of Wagadu do not believe in murdering young women to the Python-God, they are afraid to speak and riot because of the Kaya's soldiers.

The first scene of the movie depicts men draped in all black robes, sitting in a circle in a remote area in the woods. One of the men speaks of a legend that the empire should sacrifice their most beautiful girls to the Python-God for the prosperity of the kingdom.

In the next scene Kerfa goes around speaking and singing out against the Kaya Maghan and his reign. He attracts the attention of not only the townspeople, but also some of Kaya's soldiers who come and beat him. A girl named Sia Yatabere comes to Kerfa's aid. Suddenly a horn blows, Kerfa gives warning that the "cruel feast of Kaya begins" and the townspeople scatter to their homes. The black robe draped men from the beginning of the film walk through the town and head towards Kaya's palace. The men (who are now identified as priests) sit before the Kaya Maghan and tell him that Sia Yatabere is to be delivered to the Python-God's lair. The Kaya agrees, and will give Sia's parents her weight in gold for their sacrifice. The head of the armies Wakhane, and Sia's uncle, points out that she is engaged to Mamadi his nephew, who is in the army. The priests state that the oracles have chosen Sia, and to allow Mamadi to see her before she leaves. Sia's parents are told of the decision, her mother cries but her father agrees saying that her death is honorable. Sia overhears the conversation and flees.

The search for Sia begins, and Kaya orders his men to interrogate Sia's family and friends. Wakhane listens to Kaya's orders telling his wife that "the interests of state come before family." The accused accomplices of Sia are taken, and some are even locked up, and whipped. The emperor Kaya Maghan offers 18 kilos of gold to whoever finds Sia. In turn after talking with Kaya, Wakhane let's everyone go. This act strikes suspicion in the Queen's mind and she tells Kaya that Wakhane is hiding something from him.

We finally see Sia, and she is hiding in Kerfa's hut. A couple of soldiers emerge upon Kerfa outside his hut, and taunt him. Sia peeks outside to see what is going on, and sees that the soldiers are leaving. Sia is worried, and Kerfa comes in to comfort her. Once back in town, one of the soldiers says that he saw Sia in Kerfa's hut. The next day the Queen speaks to Kaya again, this time saying that he has no authority, and that his people will leave him. At this point Kaya is worried, and tells his men to bring Kerfa to him. Kaya speaks to Kerfa alone, and asks that he become the voice of his people. Kerfa denies and says that it is too late to reach out to his people.

The film takes several plot turns and twists with the life of Sia, her relationship with Mamadi and the kingdom's leadership hanging in the balance. The film portrays the role of legends and superstition as the film's characters plot to bring down Kaya Maghan's rule, kill the Python-God and save Sia. Sia, The Dream of The Python is a great movie that will captivate audiences.

Sia, Dream of the Python: Burkina Faso/France, 2001, 96min, Epic drama, Bambara with English subtitles. Directed by Dani Kouyaté

Chazzten Pettiford is a junior advertising major in the John H. Johnson School of Communications at Howard University.

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