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Mali: Land of art and culture

Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities. These Sahelian kingdoms…

Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities. These Sahelian kingdoms had neither rigid geopolitical boundaries nor rigid ethnic identities. The earliest of these empires was the Ghana Empire, which was dominated by the Soninke, a Mande-speaking people. The nation expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078, when it was conquered by the Almoravids.

Mali is one of those quiet countries you don’t hear a lot about. A landlocked country in western Africa, it’s about twice the size of Texas and one of the poorest countries in the world. Home to the fabulous ancient cities of Timbuktu and Djenne, Mali has 13 million people, 50 percent of them under the age of 18.

Malian musical traditions are derived from the griots, who are known as “Keeper of Memories”. Malian music is diverse and has several different genres. Some famous Malian influences in music are Kora Virtouso musician, Toumani Diabaté, the late roots and blues guitarist, Ali Farka Touré, the Tuareg band Tinariwen, and several Afro-pop artists such as Salif Keita, the duo Amadou et Mariam, Oumou Sangare, and Habib Koité.

Though Mali’s literature is less famous than its music, Mali has always been one of Africa’s liveliest intellectual centers. Mali’s literary tradition is passed mainly by word of mouth, with jalis reciting or singing histories and stories known by heart. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Mali’s best-known historian, spent much of his life writing these oral traditions down for the world to remember. The best-known novel by a Malian writer is Yambo Ouologuem’s Le devoir de violence, which won the 1968 Prix Renaudot but whose legacy was marred by accusations of plagiarism. Other well-known Malian writers include Baba Traoré, Modibo Sounkalo Keita, Massa Makan Diabaté, Moussa Konaté, and Fily Dabo Sissoko.

The Dogon tribe

The Dogon people moved to the Bandiagara Escarpment in the 15th century, successfully escaping Muslim expansion and preserving their traditions and culture. Dogon farmers have created green oases around their cliff-side villages by constructing irrigation channels. The contents are the Dogon ancestral burial caves, which span over a thousand miles of the escarpment.

This construction appears identical to those found in the southwestern United States, where the Anasazi Indians lived over a thousand years ago. While the Anasazi ruins, like Hovenweep or Mesa Verde, are few and abandoned long ago, the Dogon still occupy and continue to build the same cliff dwellings today.

The Dogon have an ancient and complex cosmology based on a single god, Amma, who created the sun, moon, and the stars. Interestingly, the Dogon always believed that the Earth was round and circled the Sun. It has also been found that they believed there are eleven planets in the solar system, and that they originally came from the star cluster Sirius. Their artistic designs in woodcarvings and masks had a major influence on modern art, including Picasso. Their dances include over 80 varieties of masks, depending on the type of celebration.

Every three years, the Dogon round up all the boys over the age of 12 who have not yet been circumcised, and begin the ritual of passage to manhood. High in the cliffs, there is a special place where boys are seated on a special stone where chop and a week-long tradition of teachings and exercises prepares the young men for adulthood. It is here where they are taught ancient rules for social and all other forms of conduct in the village. They also perform tasks, such as playing musical instruments, throwing stones, and not crying during the big snip.

The varied everyday culture of Malians reflects the country’s ethnic and geographic diversity. Most Malians wear flowing, colorful robes called boubous that are typical of West Africa. Malians frequently participate in traditional festivals, dances, and ceremonies.

Rice and millet are the staples of Malian cuisine, which is heavily based on cereal grains. Grains are generally prepared with sauces made from leaves such spinach or baobab leaves, with tomato, or with peanut sauce, and may be accompanied by pieces of grilled meat (typically chicken, mutton, beef, or goat). Malian cuisine varies regionally.

Wikipedia.com. Photos from danheller.com and jogger.com

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