Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kirikou et la Sorcière: A Social Commentary

The film Kirikou et la Sorcière was released in 1998. Kirikou is a precocious West-African boy who delivers his village from the wickedness of a sorceress, Karaba. I grew up listening to stories about witchcraft and retribution so I was intrigued. The graphics were simple, but the story was profound. It would make for an excellent alternative/ addition to the European fairy-tales that we are accustomed to, I thought...

Today my professor discussed the film in class, but made a rather intelligent analysis of the story (My excuse: I was watching the film from the perspective of a child hehe). So I decided to take another look at the film and here are some interesting things I noted:

The community described in the film is similar to my own in many ways. My parents for example, are very superstitious, and their belief in deities further gives credence to this disposition. Everything is the way it is, because a deity made it so. In the film, Karaba is the mover and the shaker behind the misfortunes that befall the village. The water source runs dry, and most of the adult males disappear. Karaba is regarded with fear and reverence, though she is not directly responsible for many of the misdeeds attributed to her.

In the minds of the villagers, Karaba is punishing them because she is wicked. It makes no sense to ask why she is wicked, as Kirikou does throughout the film, because the response will always be: "It's Karaba's plan". How Karaba relishes the ignorance of the village-folk! Recognizing their gullibility she claims, or at least does not deny, responsibility for the series of misfortunes. With the help of her minions, she is able to rob the villagers of their gold, which they value. Her omnipotence grows, proportional to the fear she instills in them.

The cursed water fountain is a constant reminder of the community’s fate. People are advised to stay away, lest they get cursed and suffer further from the wrath of Karaba. Kirikou disregards the rule in his quest for answers and discovers the reason why the water no longer flows- it wasn't a curse. The problem could easily be remedied, and so it was. Everyone celebrated. Yet still, every successive effort Kirikou makes to challenge the status quo is met with reproach or disapproval. His mother, who is well aware of the systematic oppression her community faces is not able to find out Karaba's secret, but she trusts Kirikou and helps him to get to the other side of mountain, beyond Karaba's dwelling so he can get answers from the Wise Man.

The film does not tell us how the wise man came to be in the mountains--- and if he always knew the solution to the village's problems, why he never attempted to advise them accordingly? To be fair, the Wise Man never hesitated to share his knowledge, after Kirikou had risked his life to get to the mountains (a combination of supplication and sacrifice I believe is the real-life equivalent).

After doing some research, my professor discovered that in the original folk-tale Karaba had become bitter and evil only after having been gang raped by men from the community. The creator of the film skillfully weaves in this historical twist in a way that is hardly evident to a child. Speaking of the origins of Karaba's wickedness, the Wise Man tells how her attackers restrain her while one of them drives in the thorn. This ‘thorn’, which remains in Karaba until Kirikou devises a way to remove it, is symbolic of the physical and psychological trauma she endures.

Another little detail, which I couldn’t help but notice, is the rejection of Kirikou by his peers. He is too small, they said. Even after Kirikou rescues them twice from the wretched grasp of Karaba they continue to regard him as inferior. Shunning everything ‘different’ seems to be rooted in the human psyche. It’s perhaps an evolutionary adaptation, which once guaranteed security and kept communities together. Anachronistic, surely, in a globalized world where I’d like to think we are starting to move beyond perceived ethnic and national boundaries.

I'll finish with a line from Kirikou:
Sometimes I am a little tired to fight on my own, and a little small and a little frightened. 
But fight he did. And so should we.


** Forgive my indiscriminate mixing of tenses. The film can be found on Youtube, with english subtitles, of course. Watch it, and tell me what you think :D


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