Practices and expressions of joking relationships in Niger


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Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Bakabé Mahamane, 2009

Joking relationships are a social practice performed among ethnolinguistic communities, groups and individuals to promote fraternity, solidarity and conviviality. They take the form of a playful taunting between two people from two communities that represent symbolically the husband and wife cross-cousin branches of the same family. Such relationships are often based on ancestral pacts forbidding conflict or war between specific communities, and imply that the members must love one another and provide assistance where needed. The members have a duty to tell each other the truth, to joke together and to pool their respective assets, knowing that any dispute must be settled peacefully. Joking relationships are practised in public places, in the fields, offices, market places, at water sources and in the home, every day as well as on special occasions such as weddings, baptisms, ceremonies and funerals, commercial transactions, and cultural and entertainment events. The first lunar month is especially devoted to joking relationships along with other associated rituals. Transmitted informally from generation to generation, joking relationships are a tool for reconciliation and peace-building and promote the cohesion and stability of families, ethnic groups and communities. They foster social equality with regard to both age and hierarchy and promote intergenerational dialogue.