I remember the first time I got introduced to that object known as Giri Giri… It was in that seaside Senegalese town named Joal. By some random circumstances, I and a friend had ended up there, attending a big event of traditional Senegalese wrestling. There was that man, Tarou, whom we’d gone there together with, who was explaining to us all the details about the sport in general and the high importance it has for the Senegalese society.
Besides many other curious facts about the whole thing, he was particularly keen to talk about those leather straps all the athletes had tied around their arms and waists. Partly due to his broken French, partly due to my anyway deficient understanding of this language, it took me quite some time to understand what all that was about. Of what I could make out, and by his enthusiastic persistence to keep mentioning it, I could get that it must be playing a very crucial role in the outcome of the combat, and a wrestler wouldn’t stand a chance without it. He was basically saying that they wear these things for protection; but I just couldn’t yet get how a leather strap tied around the arm can protect a wrestler from his opponents grips, or anyone at all from anything…
It was only after the contest was finished and we left for some quieter surroundings when our friend Tarou, finally, made the thing explicit. He then raised his one sleeve and showed us that he also was having a Giri Giri on him. It wasn’t actually just a piece of leather. The leather was just the envelope casing verses from the Quran sewn within it -it must have been something else before Islam got introduced in West Africa in the recent centuries; that’s a very good example of how primitive superstition merges harmonically with medieval superstition- hallowed by a Marabu (some sort of gifted wizard, medium, shaman, exorcist, or whatever…); and was not supposed to guard you against something, but rather against anything at all! The mystery was solved: the Giri Giri was a magical talisman!
From there on, during my stay in West Africa, I kept hearing very often stories about the Giri Giri’s and their miraculous powers. I heard stories of how bullets changed way or passed through the man’s body as it was made of thin air; of how knives bent before skin without leaving the slightest wound; of how men survived 20 meters+ falls from coconut trees without breaking a finger; of how others wrecked in the middle of the ocean and made it ashore without even knowing how to swim; of how demons and vampires wander about in desperation running short of victims… It seemed like the Giri Giri, given it was made by a good Marabu, had the power to make one effectively invulnerable against all hazard!
Finally, there was that man you may see in the video above; who I met at a beach in Gambia and was quite excited to speak all about the Giri Giri on camera.