I often write about the concept of solidarity. But there is one aspect of Malian culture that’s not so “solid.” Talibizey as they are called in Gao, are garibou, or young students of the Koran who study under a Maribou. To learn humility and to gain their daily bread, they are forced to beg door to door for either a portion of cooked food, some grain or a few coins. Whatever they earn they are instructed to bring back and share with all the other garibous and of course so that the Maribou can take his share. Certain harsher Maribou will chain hands or feet of garibou who ate from their bowl before returning to the house, which makes it all the more difficult for them to beg the next day. They are often filthy, and I was particulalry appalled once when, for lack of a hand washing bowl, a group of men filled a garibou’s bowl with water, rinsed their hands, and began to eat.
Garibou literally means “foreigner” in Arabic. In Islamic teachings, Muslims are to feed, house, and clothe any “strangers” who come by. Though, it is understood that if you stay longer than three days, you are considered to no longer be a foreigner.
The problem in Mali, aside from harsh treatment of legitimate garibou, is that there are many children (almost all boys) who are sent away (or who run away) who know nothing of the Koran yet beg just like the garibou do. This is why often Aliou would demand the garibou to recite the Koran before giving anything. Non-garibou would then be comically teased until Aliou thought they had earned their dinner. For example, Aliou would ask Dave if this was the little punk who threw the rock at him today (untrue of course) and Dave would exclaim, “Yeah, yeah that’s the one, get him!” The garibou would promptly run out of the courtyard. Similarly, if Aliou would call to Zubbu to bring a nice, sharp knife, for garibou liver is what would cure his child’s sickness, the garibou would also run (screaming sometimes) from the courtyard. Because, even in Ansongo, most of the garibou were originally from Gao gourma (the villages on the right bank of the river or as it flows between Gao and Ansongo, the West bank), Aliou would quiz them on exactly where they were from or who their father’s father is. Once, a garibou thoroughly confused by the barrage of questions, ended up telling us he was from both the West and East banks of the river. Right. Once, Aliou found a garibou from his village of Boya (commune of Gabero in the gourma), and began to feed him well. He was surprisingly a legitimate talibize.
When I was at restaurant recently in Douentza, coming back from Timbuktu with CARE, ATN Plus, and Nouveaux Horizons staff, we were appalled by the behavior of the town’s garibou. These were surely not students of the Koran. When one table had finished their bbq’d meat, the server held up the pile bones on a platter to keep it from the groping hands of almost 20 garibou. Almost each one got a bone that they started to happily gnaw on. Mahamane turns to me and says what a tragedy these garibou/beggars are. Why can’t an NGO (or the government) build centers to house and feed them and teach them a skill. Another colleague commented that if the system continues, these beggars, once adults, would also send their children out to beg. I understand certain families cannot afford to take care of all of their children, or in the case of an orphaned child, take him or her in because their parents were relatives. It is the norm, but it is not easy. Therefore, though to most Malians it is culturally appalling, I find it necessary to started building orphanages/vocational training centers for these unwanted kids. In the case of the talibizey who are trying to learn the Koran, there needs to be a system of community involvement to support the Maribou in taking care of his students. Buddhism also promotes begging and a simple life in order to learn humility; nevertheless, in learning this lesson, these children shouldn’t have to act like dogs.