Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Mali is rich in visual and textile arts. Many of these arts are tied to day-to-day living, though. Textile arts are one of the most common artistic styles easily seen in Mali. Both men and women wear brightly colored, patterned cloth. They’re known for a type of cloth style known as mud cloth, which has abstract patterns made from mud. Typically, this is a woman’s art.

To go along with the art of textile making, many Malians are adept at making jewelry. Because of Mali’s history, gold is the preferred metal in jewelry for most of the people; however, the Tuaregs prefer silver. Styles depend on personal taste and on tribe. Some tribes have their own particular style, sometimes with patterns that reflect their history or ancient religious views. Shells, clay, amber, wood, and stone are also used in making jewelry. 
They’re also known for their woodcarving. Like many other cultures in Western Africa, wooden masks and sculptures are a part of many Malian cultures. The masks are actually used to disguise the person wearing the mask when they impersonate ancestors or gods. Some tribes, like the Dogon, believe that when a person dies, their spirit stays in the mask, so therefore masks are an important part of funeral rites. The idea of gender is very important and much of their society is drawn on gender lines. In their sculptures, body features are often exaggerated to make the distinction between genders.

Mali has a particular unique type of architecture, at least different than most other building types in Western and Northern Africa. Many of the buildings (especially mosques) here are built using sun-dried mud on top of tree branch beams. Even the shapes of buildings will vary slightly from other regions as well. 

Askia the Great
Even as far back as the early 1500s, historians have noted the importance of literature in Mali. One of the great military leaders and emperors of the Songhai Empire, known as Askia the Great, was credited with promoting universities and Malian education at the time. Not only bringing in some of the world’s greatest scholars, he also built one of the largest book publishing centers in this region of Africa. One early explorer wrote about this area, saying that the demand for books is huge, especially from the North African states, and that Malians earn more profit from producing books than any other industry. 

The djali from Mali (come on, it rhymes)
Like other areas of Africa, Mali’s literature is rooted in the traditions of the djali (or sometimes spelled jali, jeli, djeli, or sometimes referred to as a griot). Djalis were an integral part of the Mali Empire and had a great responsibility: they are often quipped as walking history books, but essentially that’s what they were in a nutshell. But not exactly. Yes, they were great storytellers and musicians who retell historical stories and family traditions, but they also work in satire, gossip, political commentary, praise songs, among other topics. One of the most well-known historians, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, spent a large part of his time studying these traditions. 

Some popular Malian writers include Yambo Ouologuem (known for his book Le Devoir de Violence, it was raked with controversy over plagiarism), Maryse Condé (descended from the Bambara people and writes on their culture, although she lives in the French Antilles), Massa Makan Diabaté (known for his work The Epic of Sundiata and the Kouta Trilogy, he’s a descendent of griots), Fily Dabo Sissoko (author and political leader, writing about the Negritude movement, died in prison), and Moussa Konaté (teacher, writers, playwright).

Up next: music and dance

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