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Mali People and Culture

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

Most Malians are Sunni Muslims, there is a small number of Christaians and low level of indigenous or traditional animist beliefs.

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.

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.

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

Musical Instruments

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.

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.

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