From the beginning of the story, the Islamic religion penetrates itself into the existing culture in the Segu Empire. The traditional religion was one in which there are many gods and spirits that control the lives and destinies of mortal humans. Fetishism was also commonplace in the culture, in the sense that people decorate themselves with various objects in order to please their gods and to maintain a good future for them, as in the case with Nya offering an egg to the family boli to promote peace and a good life for the newborn.
Magic was also a staple in Bambara culture, with the existence of soothsayers and fetish priests, who used magical powers to predict the future. Islamic religion first showed its “face” in Segu by the presence of their way of dressing and the eastern goods that existed within the city limits. Merchants also inhabited the city, which instilled a more capitalistic presence in Segu. The mosque was also a display of the presence of Islam within Segu. The character that was the most affected by the presence of Islam was Tiekoro, who easily embraced the religion.
Curiosity of something out of the norm was what drew him to the mosque, where he learned of the written word, which was completely opposite of the oral tradition which was existed in Segu. Tiekoro’s passion for non-conformity is what brought him into Islam. He liked the fact that in Islam, there was more a more tangible concept, without magic and the invisible spirits. He also felt that there was more love in Islam because of the fact that the religion created a great bond between the followers. His love of Islam and Allah resulted in his forced exile from Segu.
However, we can see his inner conflict with his heritage and with his new adopted religion. He still missed his home and the people that inhabited the city. He acknowledged his family’s background, but still was proud to flaunt his new morality around his family. Also, he still succumbed to his animal instincts when he raped Nadie. Although he gave a genuine effort to be solely Islam, he still couldn t “shake” his lineage as a Bambara. With all this in regard, Tiekoro’s change in identity made him into the godlike person that was considered just in Islam.
He cared for his family, and advocated Islam as “the religion of the future”, in order to effectively spread it. Even his death was a display of his Islamic beliefs, with his grave becoming an Islamic shrine. The blending of Islam, Fetishism, and Animism is greatly felt throughout the work. Islam forced Segu s inhabitants to rethink their traditional values and culture. An example of this is in the case of Islam s position against polygamy. From this, some of the Bambaras reduced the number of wives that they had. Islam also changed because of the Animistic tendencies of the Bambara.
One can realize that a change in both cultures would occur when Tiekoro first saw the written word, and considered it magic. The fact that Segu was an empire that was formed by war and the sword changed the view of family life and brotherhood that was associated with Islam. Muslims and Fetishists formed groups together in order to facilitate their personal gain. Conflict arose in the originally peaceful Islamic life. An example of this blending of two different worlds is when Omar hated most was the tolerance on the part of Islam towards fetishism and the mingling together of Islam and fetishist rites (Conde, 474).
From these occurrences, the cultural identities of Islam and the Bambara would never be the same in Segu and its surrounding areas. Conde shows the blending of two identities in Segu in order to convey her personal opinion on culture. Her general feeling is that the inhabitants of Segu would never be able to accept only one part of their new culture, even if they wanted to. If a Bambara wanted to keep his traditional faith, while ignoring Islam, he would fail in his attempt because of the corruption of fetishism with Islamic beliefs. The same would apply to a Muslim residing in Segu.
The two religious and cultural identities are forever intertwined within the Segu city limits. In her talk at NYU, she related her belief to modern afro-centrism, which states that a black person is African, no matter where they were born and what culture they were raised in. She feels that this belief is totally wrong to accept, because of the diverse world in which we live. An example of this is in her own life, where she was born in a French colonial world in the Caribbean. The same blending of various cultural identities occurred in the Caribbean as in Segu.
She considers herself a West Indian woman, not a French or an African woman. Her view is further conveyed when, in an interview in the work Callaloo, she said, we do believe in the West Indies that we have a culture that Blacks, Mulattoes, and Indians share. That we are all of us, producers and keepers of that culture. This same belief is reflected in Segu in her depiction of Tiekoro, a prime example of the blending of two cultures. Conde feels that the same idea that she has on her heritage is the same philosophy that the Bambara should take in Segu.