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People & Culture

People | Languages | Festivals & Events | Cooking & Recipes | Music | Art & Craft


The major peoples in size order are Bambara 31.4%, Fula Macina 9.6%, Soninke 7.4%, Sanghai 6.3%, Dogon 5%

The largest tribe is the Bambara, who occupy many of the civil servant positions. It is the Dogons and the Tuareg who practice a more traditional way of life.

Dogon People

The Dogon are an ethnic group located mainly in the administrative districts of Bandiagara and Douentza. Within these regions the Dogon population is most heavily concentrated along a 200 kilometer (125 mile) stretch of escarpment called the Cliffs of Bandiagara near Timbuktu, South of the Sahara Desert in West Africa. The cliffs provide a spectacular physical setting for Dogon villages built on the sides of the escarpment. There are approximately 700 Dogon villages.

The Dogons are incredibly industrious farmers, their homeland, the Pays Dogon, has been designated a World Heritage site because of its cultural significance.

The Dogon are also famous for their artistic designs in woodcarvings and elaborate masks. Their dances include over 80 varieties of masks, each depending on the type of celebration. ( read more...)

Recommended Book
Dogon : Africa's People of the Cliffs   This stunning photographic book demonstrates how geography, with a 125-mile range of cliffs, has protected and dictated the culture of the intensely spiritual Dogon. The focus is on the people of the cliff face in their villages built beside steep-walled gorges that are accessible only on foot. Photojournalist Hollyman and anthropologist van Beek detail the Dogon's skill as agriculturists in growing sorghum, millet, corn, and onions, and as skilled artisans famous for the masks they make

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Fulani Tribe
The Fulani of Mali are also known as the Fulfulde or Peul. Most estimates of their number in Mali range between 850,000 to 1,000,000 people. The majority of the Fulani are from a sub-group known as the Futa Jalon. The Fulani people comprise the largest nomadic society in the world covering at least six nations in West Africa. Fourteen million Fulani are spread throughout Northwest and Central Africa. The major concentration of Mali's Fulani population is located within a 150 kilometer radius of the city of Mopti. Most urban Fulani tend to be sedentary, commercial people, whereas the rural Fulani tend to be migratory herdsmen.

Photo of Fulani Woman, Mali

More Information on Fulani People

Recommended Book
Freedom in Fulani Social Life : An Introspective Ethnography   A remarkably well-written and insightful account of Fulani life. . . . In addition to using the conventional approaches of participating in and observing the daily activities of the Jelgobe . . . Riesman enriches his account by examining his personal feelings about particular incidents.Library Journal

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Tuareg Tribe
The Tuareg, or 'blue men of the desert' (named for their indigo robes and turbans) are an ancient nomadic tribe still eking out a desert existence. They are a proud race of people, famous for their fighting abilities and artwork, now staring urbanisation and resettlement in the face. Drought and government policy are threatening their traditional way of life but Tuaregs and their camel-caravans still appear unexpectedly on the horizon before melting into the desert again.

Websites with more info

Dogon Tribe
African Tribe Stars in Sirius Mystery


Dogon Village
Fulani People - daily chores at the well
Fulani People

Listen to Mali National Anthem
Words of the Mali National Anthem

Malawi Flag

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In all, there are thirty-two languages listed for Mali, but French is the official language and a large part of the population uses Bambara as its mother tongue, and as secondary language it is employed to communicate nationwide.

Other Websites

Languages of Mali


Festival in the Desert (Festival-au-Desert) 2009
This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience! Visit the festival yourself with this 14 day itinerary
Billed as the "most remote music festival in the world" the Festival is a three-day Afro-pop powwow held by the Tuareg, the traditionally nomadic "blue people" of the Sahara. It's a tribe often feared for the banditry of its rebels and respected for the fact that it has never really been conquered. Combining traditional Tuareg music and dance, camel races, and competitions during the day, the Festival comes alive at night with modern Malian music, which is becoming popular the world over from incorporation into music as diverse as that of Robert Plant and Paul Simon. Although the centerpoint of this trip is the Festival in the Desert in Essakane, the itinerary also includes more well-known Mali attractions such as Dogon country, Djenne, and Timbuctu. Visit the festival:-Click to view full itinerary

Festival on the Niger 31 January - February 2008 Segou
tradional malian musique and dance, a Forum with theme "development trough culture and tourism", a Fair with local art and food

Fête des Masques - April
The Dogons are famous for their masks and during the five-day event many of them are used in ritual ceremonies that go back more than 1000 years . At each Sigui festival, a new ceremonial mask is carved especially for the occasion, then placed in the Tellem caves. Remnants of these masks going back hundreds of years have been found in the caves.

Crossing of the cattle - December
The Cattle Crossing is the most important Fulani festival in Diafarabe. Every December, herders bring cattle from the grazing lands to the river at Diafarabe. Here everyone crosses the river. On the other side families are reunited for a few days, before they take the cattle to new pastures. The first day is the Promenade des Jeunes, when the unmarried men and women dress up to attract each other. There is also a competition to judge the fattest and best looked-after cattle, with useful prizes.


The food in Mali is similar to that found in Senegal and other areas of West Africa.

Along the Niger river, fish dishes are popular and include Nile perch (or capitaine) which is either fried or grilled, stewed or baked.

Click for Mali recipes


Mali is home to some of the most beautiful, and successful, contemporary music in Africa. The traditional music of Mali is based on the songs of the jalis (or griots), a distinct caste in the social structure since the days of the Mali Empire.

A range of traditional instruments are used including the Kamal Ngoni (a type of 6-string guitar), the Djembe (deerhide drum) with modern keybords, electric guitars, flute, strings and rattles.

The choice of instrument for the jalis is the kora, a harp-lute string instrument with 21 strings stretched over a long neck of rosewood and plucked with the thumb and index finger of each hand.

Mali's most famous musician, Salif Keita, is an ambassador for griot music.

Recommended Music
Salif Keita
Oumou Sangare
The Wassoulou Sound:
Women of Mali
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See our full selection of Mali Music

Awaken the Rhythm of Africa - purchase one of these fine drums...

Djembe Drum

hand made. The drum surface is leather made from animal hide/skin and the base is made of sturdy carved wood, encircled with plain or braided rope.
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Djembe Drum

In Mali, nearly all ceremonies are accompanied by the timeless and distinctive melody of drums. Approx. 16-18" tall, 10" diameter.
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Talking Drum

Changes the tone when played. It is played by holding under the arm and striking with a curved stick. A totally unique; and beautifully African sound.
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Whether it be architecture, wood carvings, brass carvings, wicker crerations, mud cloth fabric designs, bead bracelets, gold jewellery, dance, or music, the people of Mali are creative.

Mali is also famed for Genuine mudcloth with hand-painted designs using the traditional methods which have been passed down for many centuries. The cloth is first woven, then a design is painted on by hand using natural ingredients. This cloth is then dipped in to specially prepared dyes made with mud, left to dry and then often dipped again. The process may take several weeks from start to finish.

Their artistic designs include a whole variety of woodcarvings and masks

Visit our Mali Art & Craft Shop for a huge variety of art, craft and fabric from Mali


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