“I want to show people why the natural beauty of my country is so important and why we need to stand together to prevent our nation and culture to be harmed.” – Kadjike’s Director Sana Na N’Hada.

When Akapakama, God Nindo’s first human creation, decided to leave Nôcau, she entrusted each of her daughters with responsibilities. Orákuma had to take care of  traditions, ceremonies, and of carving Nindo’s image. Ominka had to protect the sea and its inhabitants. Forests and marshlands devolved on Oraga. Finally, Ogubané was entrusted with the secret of the rain and the wind.

As in the original paradise, the inhabitants of the Bijagós Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, have followed these ancient traditions to the letter. Until the day when a gang of drug dealers starts occupying their sacred islands and threatens the survival of the community.

Kadjike (“Sacred Bush”), which stands for “the sacred place of initiation,” is Sana Na N’Hada’s second feature film. Set in an environment untouched by modernity, it follows the steps of two young men on the brink of adulthood.

Toh (Trindade Gomes da Costa) has only one goal: travelling and seeing the world. Ankina (Rubilson Velho Delcano) is set to succeed Tsíquinha (Luís Morgado) as the village’s medicine man. However, this would prevent him from marrying Ommy (Beti Moreira Vaz). Each young man is torn between his obligations to the elders and his desire to experience life on his own terms.

When Tsíquinha dies, Ankina must find a way to save the community, while Toh comes to an important realization.

Kadjike is a unique film for several reasons. First, the rites of passage become an opportunity to expose the dangers of the outside world and its abusive “carpe diem”.

The cinematography, supported by minimal music and natural sounds, is also powerful. From mythology in action with Akpakama handing down responsibilities to her daughters; to virginal moments between Ankina and Ommy; and quaint shots of village life and daily routines; the camera unobtrusively finds its way into lives and landscapes, slowly exposing the reality of what is at stake.

“In the last decade Guinea-Bissau has become the key transit hub for cocaine trading between Latin America and Europe,” says photographer Anne Laerke Koefoed. “The Bijagós Archipelago, a sprawling mass of largely uninhabited islands, has been the focal point of trafficking activity in the country that has turned it into what some observers call a ‘narco-state’.”

There is also an exquisite economy of words during seminal scenes. As Ankina is initiated under the kapok–or tree of wisdom–with a venomous snake, his eyes do the talking. His naked fear is here, almost palpable and certainly moving.

The same goes for Toh. He may be a rebellious character, but he is an open book. His face often betrays his need for validation. A validation that drug lady Assumé (Isabel N’Fanda M’Bali) knows how to use to her advantage:

“Everything has a price. If you can pay, you don’t need anyone’s permission,” she says.

Despite occasional forced dialogues and performances, Kadjike is a beautiful and refreshing piece. Beautiful because, from the first shot, Sana Na N’Hada manages to make you fall in love with the pristine background. And refreshing, because the pace of the film is never hurried. Viewers have time to get acquainted with each character and witness their transformation.

“On a simple level Kadjike is a coming of age drama,” says Koefoed. “On a deeper level it is a meditation on the schism between tradition Guinean customs and the rising tide of modernity something which has been a constant theme throughout N’Hada’s cinematic career.”

Kadjike speaks to human beings’ resilience in the face of trials and hardships, to their ability to stand up for what they love and believe in. This is how self-discovery and self-acceptance work, after all.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Kadjike, Sana Na N’Hada, Guinea-Bissau, 2013, duration 115 min, production LX Films

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