Monday, 6 August 2012

The Tuareg Queen

Tin Hinan is the name given by the Tuareg to a 4th-century woman of prestige whose monumental tomb is located in the Sahara at Abalessa in the Ahaggar or Hoggar region of Algeria. The name means literally "she of the tents", but may be metaphorically translated as "mother of the tribe" (or "of us all") or even "queen of the camp" (the "camp" maybe referring to the group of tombs which surround hers).[1] She is sometimes referred to as "Queen of the Hoggar", and by the Tuareg as tamenoukalt which also meansqueen.

The tomb was opened by Byron Khun de Prorok with support from the French army in 1925, and archaeologists made a more thorough investigation in 1933. It was found to contain the skeleton of a woman on a wooden litter, lying on her back with her head facing east. She was accompanied by heavy gold and silver jewellery, some of it adorned with pearls. On her right forearm she wore 7 silver bracelets, and on her left, 7 gold bracelets. Another silver bracelet and a gold ring were placed with the body. Remains of a complex piecework necklace of gold and pearls (real and artificial) were also present.

A number of funerary objects were also found. These included a "Venus" statue in Aurignacian style (similar to the Venus of Hohle Fels), a glass goblet (lost during World War II), and gold foil which bore the imprint of a Roman coin of Constantine I issued between 308 and 324 CE. A 4th to 5th century date is consistent with carbon dating of the wooden bed and also with the style of pottery and other tomb furniture. The tomb itself is constructed in a style that is widespread in the Sahara.

An anthropological study of the remains published in 1968 concluded the skeleton was that of a woman 1.72 to 1.76 metres tall, belonging to a Mediterranean race, who had probably never had children and who was probably lame because of deformation of the lumbar and sacral areas. The body is now in the Bardo Museum in Algiers.

The Tuareg were well aware that the tomb contained a woman of prestige and a number of legends about her had long been in circulation before the tomb was opened. According to one legend, Tin Hinan was believed to have been a Muslim of the Braber tribe of Berbers who came from Tafilalt oasis in the Atlas Mountains in the area of modern Morocco accompanied by a maidservant named Takamat. In this legend, Tin Hinan had a daughter (or grand-daughter), whose name is Kella, while Takamat had two daughters. These children are said to be the ancestors of the Tuareg of the Ahaggar. Another version is that Tin Hinan had three daughters (who had totemic names referring to desert animals) who were the tribal ancestors. Her Muslim religion is anachronistic, as is the statement that Kella was her daughter or grand-daughter, because the historical figure and real tribal matriarch[2]Kella lived during the 17th century.

The 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun recorded a legend about a lame queen named Tiski who was ancestral mother of the Ahaggar tribes, which is somewhat closer to the archaeological record.

Tuareg "the forgotten people"

Tuareg : the tragedy of a Forgotten  People
Touareg 3.jpg (236368 octets)
Touareg 3.jpg (236368 octets)
By Mohand Salah TARI*  in Imazighen Assa
Hardly a day goes by without the world media pausing and commenting on the civil war that has been tearing the former Yugoslavia apart for the last three-and-a-half years. The battleground of this conflict, which has claimed some 200,000 victims, has been the heart of Europe. It, therefore, seems to have raised the concern and fears of the West as this new war of 'ethnic cleansing' threatened to disturb Europe's
quietness and peacefulness. It has every sign of risking to bring back the nightmare of two devastating European civil wars.
During the same period, and on the other shore of the Mediterranean, a 'behind closed doors' savage war, opposing Algeria's military regime-determined to cling to power-to its new islamist enemies, has claimed some 50,000 victims. Without media uproar, this does not seem to have moved the same West, which gives the impression of implicitly endorsing the military's policy of eradication.

Further down in the south, in the Sahel countries of Mali and Niger, genocide has for years been perpetrated by the regimes of the two countries against the Tuareg people, and to which the entire world seems to turn a blind eye. The Tuareg tragedy has not been a priority of world opinion simply because it is a slow burning conflict. Not unlike the Kurdish people but without media fuss, the Tuareg have been the subject of systematic repression and massacre.

The objective of this paper is to try to briefly introduce the reader to the Tuareg, their history, their way of life and to bring to light the plight of these agonizing people who, as a consequence of the emergence of post-colonial states, have become fragmented, uprooted and subjected to dislocation and alienation.

The Tuareg belong to the large Berber community, which stretches from the Canary Islands to Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Niger River. They are the only Berber speaking community to have preserved and used the Tifinagh writing. Nomads of vast arid lands, the common denominator of the dispersed Tuareg is the language, Tamasheq. Consequently, they identify themselves as Kel Tamasheq (people of Tamasheq). The Tuareg are a 'white' race who had originally lived in the northern tier of Africa but were later chased southwards by successive Arab invasions.

At the independence of African States the Tuareg found themselves scattered among various states (Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, etc.). Now they are threatened in their survival even for reasons of the establishment of borders, which had been unknown before, and also because of the economic evolution and climatic conditions. They find themselves dominated, humiliated and, for some, reduced to the state of refugees. Because of administrative constraints and their political marginalisation, added to their geographical isolation, it seems an uphill task to establish a true figure of the Tuareg and their distribution.

The Tuareg themselves claim to be more than three million. Yet their number has variously been estimated at some 1.5 to 2 million, with the majority of some 750,000 living in Niger, and 550,000 in Mali. In Algeria they are estimated at 40,000, excluding some 100,000 refugees from Mali and Niger, and the same number is officially admitted to live in Burkina Faso. Proper figures are not established in Libya and other West African francophone countries.
Prior to the independence of African countries, the Tuareg had been organized into 'confederations' and traditionally lived in a clearly hierarchical society, which included:
  • lmajeren (the nobles), former warriors who today constitute a very small minority;
  • lneselmen (the religious), literally meaning Muslims, in charge of law and Muslim traditions. This is a clear indication of the secular nature of the Tuareg society;
  • lmrad (free men);
  • Iklan (slaves) or former slaves descendants of the captives. The latter, known as Bella in Mali and Bouzou in Niger, are of black or half-cast origin. Today they form a sizeable part of the Tuareg society and, like their former masters, they speak Tamasheq. The lklan, however, are distinguished by a number of categories:
  • The lderfen, often settled and freed for several generations; 
  • The lborroliten, half-cast born of marriage between lmrad and lklan. They are freed by their parents;
  • The Iklan-n-Eguef (captives of the dunes), shepherds and cultivators of lmajeren;
  • The tent Iklan, servants living with their masters.  
This hierarchical society, however, has for the last three to four decades been in full mutation under the effect of urbanization, of modern transport and also of dissidence and the will of the authorities to forcibly alter the Tuareg's way of life. 
Left in oblivion since the end of the French 'pacification' of the Sahara in 1920, the Tuareg have been rediscovered by the international media, in search of exoticism during the big Paris-Dakar rallies of the
The AIgerian Tuareg
The ancient history of the Berbers in the Sahara and the settlement of the Tuareg in the Ahaggar are not sufficiently known. It seems, as it was suggested by Johannes Nicolaison1, that during the first centuries
of the Christian era, camel breeding shepherds had conquered another Berber population composed of goat breeders already settled in the Ahaggar. Nicolaison held that these noble shepherds had introduced the camel in this part of the Sahara, and by invading the Ahaggar they were at the origin of the division into nobles and vassals, which was to become the foundation of the political system in the social formation of
the Tuareg. Hence, the dominant/dominated relationship goes far back in time.

The majority of the Ahaggar inhabitants claim their roots back to the mythical queen Tin-Hinan and her Road companion Takama, who were alleged to have travelled from Tafilalet in Morocco to the south, the country of the Tuareg. Thus, most of the noble Tuareg pride themselves in claiming their ancestry from Tin-Hinan, while the vassals refer their roots to Takama.

The interest of different versions of this myth lies in fact in the nature of the relationship between these two presumed ancestors, Tin-Hinan and Takama. This difference in view permits the nobles to justify their domination over the vassal: by holding that Takama was Tin-Hinan's servant, while the vassals conceive that class relationships should be marked by the same respect as between a young girl and her older sister.

The vassal tribes are known as Imrad or Kel Ulli, literally meaning people of the goats, because of their economic dependence on goat breeding in distinction from camel breeding. Jeremy Keenan2 argues that this tribal organization goes back to 1660. At that time, the Berbers, who lived in the regions of Ajjer, Ahaggar and Adrar-n-Iforas, were dominated by the noble tribe Imunan, who alleged to be descendants of the Prophet. It was then that the noble tribe Uraren rose against the Imunan. The former assassinated the Imunan's supreme chief, Gama, and then brought the regions of Ajjer, Ghadames and Ghat under their control.

As for the French colonisation of the Ahaggar, it lasted from the defeat of the Tuareg at the battle of Tit in 1920 until Algeria's independence in 1962. This period had witnessed a gradual disintegration of the Tuareg traditional way of life, albeit several fundamental characteristics of the Tuareg society, such as the traditional distribution of authority and social stratification, were to survive. Indeed, the social and economic structures of the Tuareg were not deeply disturbed during the colonial era. The Iklan, for instance, constituted an important lever of the Tuareg economic system. The crucial interest throughout the colonial period was in the position of Iklan. The Tuareg considered them as an integral part of their system. They were unable to imagine a Tuareg society without Iklan. And if there is a question that ought to be considered as crucial or even symbolic in the Algerian-Tuareg conflict, it is, without doubt, this question of Iklan3.
In general terms, the main aim of Algeria's policy in the Sahara was to integrate the Tuareg in the Algerian system, a system whose 'socialist' values, such as 'freedom' and 'equal opportunities,' are incompatible with the traditional values of the Tuareg. Thus, one of the first priorities of the Algerian authorities was to settle Iklan in towns in order to fit them into the official economic circuit, whereby the Tuareg would end up, in time, in a narrow dependence. The intention is therefore clear, a dialectal reversal of social conditions: yesterday's slave will become tomorrow's master.

If the French administration had established relations with the Tuareg through the traditional chief, Amenukal, later on the Algerian administration proceeded with a complete change in the distribution of

The Amenukal lost his status of traditional chief and became nominally the 'elected' representative in the new 'popular democracy,' receiving a salary as a member of parliament.

Authorities in Algeria have always cast a suspicious eye toward the Tuareg, not hesitating to take measures for the destruction of their hierarchised traditional society in order to better assimilate them. Since Algeria's independence, a policy of settlement has been forced upon them, but also by the voluntary encouragement for the settlement of people, civilian and military organisations, coming from the north of the country. The total exercise of the central authority over the Ahaggar became effective since 1965 with the nomination of Mr. Aktouf as the Sub-Prefect of the region. He was in charge of the integration of the Tuareg through their settlement, particularly within the framework of agricultural co-operatives. This obviously entitled the policy of breaking up the nomadic way of life. Aktouf himself once declared: "The Tuareg of the Ahaggar would either settle as Algerians or leave the country and go to Niger"4. It is true that anyone who refused to espouse the official ideology of the regime was invited by Comedienne to 'leave the beautiful sun of Algeria'. And as the Tuareg had no other choice, they were forced to pay the cost. The warrior Tuareg aristocracy was compelled to submit to the uniformism of the Algerian republic.

In 1986, Algeria did not hesitate to expel more than 15,000 Tuareg refugees from Tamanrasset, only to find themselves in camps in the borders of Mali and Niger. Without papers, and hence without citizenship, the Kel Tagglemoust people were being bounced from one country to another.

Today, Algeria has adopted an ambiguous attitude with regard to the suffering of the Tuareg of Mali and Niger. It seems to be split between the desire to expand its diplomatic influence and the will to play on the issue of the community of origin of the 'white' Tuareg and Algerian populations in order to enjoy privileged relations with the governments of Niamey and Bamako and to appear as the natural protector of these populations, while in other respects, the agitation of the Tuareg of the south overcome their brothers in Algeria. This anxiety has become a deciding factor with the increasing flow of refugees stationing in the
Ahaggar. This also explains the very active mediation role played by Algeria in an attempt to appease the Tuareg rebellion in Mali and Niger.

A symbolic Berber solidarity expressed by the Algerian Kabyle Berbers (mostly militants or sympathisers of the Socialist Forces Front-FFS) in 1990, by sending some lorries carrying food and medicine for the
refugees in the Ahaggar, was far from pleasing the authorities in Algiers.
Libya and the Tuareg
The enormous oil revenues in Libya since the early 1970s attracted tens of thousands of migrant workers from the Sahel countries, particularly from Mali and Niger, of which a significant proportion were Tuareg.
These young people, fleeing harsh climatic conditions as the result of frequent drought, had often been forced to enroll in the so-called Islamic Legion, an army of mercenaries sponsored by Kaddafi to fight for
his ideals in Africa and the Middle East.

Following the death of Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1970, all Kaddafi's dreams for uniting Arabs were shattered. Nasser's demise marked the beginning of the end of the Pan-Arabist revolutionary rhetoric and, consequently, the influence of the revolutionary regimes. By now, Egypt was no longer the cradle of Arab nationalism, as its weight in population power and prestige was being directed towards creating a different reality in the Middle East. This has essentially been based on reconciliation and accommodation with Israel, as wished by the now wealthy and, therefore, powerful conservative Arab States.

Isolated and rejected by the Arab Middle East, Kaddafi shifted his interest towards Africa, eyeing the Sahel countries as a potential for realizing another dream, that of an 'Islamic Empire.' And in order to achieve this, he conceived an army—the Islamic Legion—to subdue or, if needed, to destabilize the Sahelian regimes. Thus, Libyan recruits among the Tuareg nomads, notably prior to 1987, had created the conditions by which those returning to northern Mali and Niger could be targeted as foreign-armed troublemakers. Indeed, in 1980, Niger broke its diplomatic relations with Libya, accusing her of offering refuge to opponents. Two years later, tens of Tuaregs were arrested in Niger and Mali, accused of
working to destabilize the two countries. And in 1985, Tuareg rebels attempted to take over the Prefecture (administrative headquarters) of Tchin-Tabaraden in Niger. They were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. This climate of persecution continued until the death of Niger's president Seyni Kountché in 1987.
Replaced by Ali Seibou, the latter advocated a policy of relaxation towards the Tuareg. Consequently, he visited Libya in 1989 in order to meet Tuareg refugees, promising to favour their eventual return to the country, where a general amnesty would be issued for all those implicated in political events since 1974.    Touareg 1.JPG (59286 octets)By now, however, Libya had already anticipated the expulsion of nearly 20,000 Tuareg, most of whom were from Niger. The change in Libya's attitude towards the Tuareg was dictated by foreign policy constraints. Between 1986-87, the Libyan army suffered heavy defeats in Chad. At the same time, Libya was being accused of sponsoring international terrorism and it had, somehow, been punished by the US
bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986. The international pressure exercised over Libya was to compel Kaddafi to review the orientation of his foreign policy. No longer able to count on his former Soviet 'ally,' Kaddafi sought reconciliation with Arab and African countries. Such being the case, he started to downgrade his support for opposition movements. Gradually, the Tuareg quit the ranks of the lslamic Legion, clandestinely entered their countries, and began to constitute the first nuclei of armed struggle in Niger and Mali.
With his unpredictable and maverick behaviour, however, Kaddafi has often been a constant threat to his neighbours. Invited by the Algerian President to the Djanet (Algeria) summit in September 1990, to examine the Tuareg problem and anticipate the reinforcing of border controls and measures for resettlement and reintegration of refugees, Kaddafi arrived masquerading as a Tuareg. In the presence of presidents of Mali and Niger, he arrogantly and against historical evidence, as well as the ideological orientation of the Tuaregs themselves, declared that the Tuareg "were Libyan Arab tribes ( ).” And in order to 'save' them from genocide, he invited them to go back to Libya, "their original homeland"6, a veiled threat, which hid anew the shadow of the Libyan Islamic Legion.

The Tuareg of Mali and Niger
Free to move across the Sahara throughout their history, the Tuareg have witnessed the consecration of borders following the independence of African countries. Thus, the seasonal migration with their cattle in
search of water and pasture came to an end, and so did the meetings with the cousins of neighbouring countries and the freedom of trans-border exchanges. The present political situation of the Tuareg in both Mali and Niger emanates from complicated origins, some of which date back to the colonial era. Since the independence of the two countries in 1960, two phases can be distinguished in the development of the 'Tuareg question':

-The 1960-89 period was characterised by the Tuareg exodus towards urban centres, as well as by exile towards neighbouring countries, notably Algeria and Libya. Exodus and exile were essentially due to both
economic and political reasons (drought, loss of cattle, repression in Adrar-n-Iforas in 1962 and again in 1964, a coup attempt in Niger in 1967).

-The 1989-95 phase has been characterised by repression, perpetrated by regular armies, and by the birth of the Tuareg armed resistance. 

For over thirty years a considerable segment of the Tuareg people have known only exile and refugee camps. Return to their countries has often been received by violence and massacres. Finally, an intense feeling of exclusion, combined with repression, created a sense of ill-being among the Tuareg, which translated into the birth of armed resistance.

In Mali, the Adrar-n-Iforas was integrated in 1960 with independent Mali, under the dictatorial regime of Modibo Keita. The new president followed the policy of forced settlement in this region and the collection of taxes already installed by the French administration. Daily humiliation of Tuareg chiefs, harassment by officials, and the tax burden, added to isolation and political marginalisation, were all piled up to provoke the exasperation of the population of the Adrar-n-Iforas, pushing them to take up arms. The revolt was countered by ruthless army repression, massacring both people and cattle. This was taking place with the complacency of Ben Bella's Algeria, who offered the Malian soldiers the right of pursuit of the Tuareg in the Algerian territory. Worse, the leaders who took refuge in Algeria were extradited back to Mali to be imprisoned. After the repression in Adrar-n-Iforas, the Malian government ordained this region a military zone.

Besides this exodus, provoked by the repressive policy of the Malian regime, there was also the quasi-total climatic catastrophe to the Tuareg pastoral economy. The drought, which had affected the entire Sahel from 1968 to 1985, had destroyed an essential part of the cattle. The symbolic international aide destined for the victims would not reach them since it was frequently repossessed by the public authorities.

Since 1990, in Mali as in Niger, the Tuareg country has been through fire and blood with hundreds of victims, not only among the fighters, but principally among the civilian population, leading more families to
flee, once again, and take refuge in camps on the Algerian and Mauritanian borders. In Niger, since their return, the Tuareg had been under high surveillance by the regime's political police. Several were arrested and jailed. Irritated by such abuse, some of their free comrades attacked the prison in May 1990 to free them. During the altercation that followed, a guard of the Tchin-Tabaraden prison was killed. The event served as a pretext for the government, which then raised the claim of a plot and, thus, engaged in a ferocious repression against the Tuareg civilian population. Those who escaped the massacre fled to Mali, only to be arrested by the Malian authorities and, consequently, to be jailed in the town of Ménaka. A few weeks later, during 1990, they were liberated by the Malian Tuareg, who attacked the town's military barracks. This was to spark the beginning of the Tuareg armed rebellion in Mali.
The Tuareg of Mali
At the outset, the Malian Tuareg were gathered within the Popular Movement of the Azawad (MPA), led by Iyad Ag Aghali. It was with this movement that the Malian President, General Moussa Traoré, signed an agreement in Tamanrasset (Algeria), on January 6, 1991, for the cessation of hostilities7. After a few months, however, the rebellion resumed its armed struggle; Moussa Traoré and his regime were to be toppled the following March. Meanwhile, the Tamanrasset accord was soon contested by some Tuareg, leading to splits within the MPA. Hence, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Azawad (FPLA), led by Rhissa Ag Sidi Mohamed, and the Revolutionary Army for the Liberation of the Azawad (ARLA), led by Abderrahmane Gala, came into being. Later on, in a move to co-ordinate the actions of all these tendencies, they joined forces under the Unified Fronts and Movements of Azawad (MFUA). 
At the same time, the new leader in Mali, President Alpha Oumar Konaré, announced liberal measures, which included the return of the army to the barracks and the suppression of the special courts. Then he solicited Algeria's mediation. 
Led by Algeria's foreign affairs minister, with the participation and support of two other personalities, Ahmed Baba Miské (Mauritania) and Edgar Pisani, a former French minister, negotiations between the Malian government and the Tuareg rebellion resulted in a peace agreement known as the National Pact, signed in the Malian capital, Bamako, on April l1, 1992, between the Malian government and the Coordination Bureau of the MFUA. The FPLA refused to adhere to this pact, considering it a divertive maneuver by the Malian government. A year later, the FPLA joined the ranks. 
The Bamako National Pact, which hoped to end two years of armed rebellion, defined the details for implementation of the cease-fire and organised a particular status for the northern regions of Mali. More importantly, it foresaw the gradual integration of the Azawad armed rebels in the Malian army. Yet, after having raised considerable hope, the National Pact did not live to its expectations. It was just a matter of weeks before attacks and repression resumed their course. The fragility of the pact was revealed as the government came under attack for undermining the peace plan, when the following May, in Gossi, Tuareg civilians were shot by Malian gendarmes. The essential point here is the question whether the governments of Mali and Niger are really in control of their armies. 
Through Algeria's mediation, another agreement was signed on 11 February 1993, between the Malian government and the MFUA leaders, emphasising the principles agreed upon in the National Pact of April 1992. Two days earlier, the Algerian and Malian governments had reached an agreement on the repatriation of some 100,000 refugees living in camps in southern Algeria. Another round of mediation by Algeria took place on May 10-15, 1994, in Algiers, when a follow up of the April 1992 Pact tended to resolve a number of issues, including agreement on the reintegration of the rebel fighters into the government institutions. The responsibility for the implementation of this agreement was given to a tripartite committee composed of representatives of the MFUA, the Malian government and Algeria8. Three days later, on May 19, came the birth of a black racist movement advocating the extermination of white skins (Tuareg) in Mali. A settled black militia known as the Patriotic Ganda Koy (masters of the land) Movement, representing the Songhay population, officially and openly exhibited its hostility to the Algiers agreement. It expressed its determined opposition by massacring 25 Tuareg at Tacharene9 on May 22. The MPGK, led by a former army officer, benefits from the sympathy of the army and from the active support of the majority of political parties opposing the National Pact. Thus, since May 1994, the conflict entered a new phase of violence, as it gradually moved away from its political nature towards an inter-community or ethnic confrontation, opposing Tuareg to Songhays and leading to more refugee flights, which the HCR reported to number some 100,000 in Algeria, 80,000 in Mauritania, and 50,000 in Burkina Faso. These figures are unanimously contested by Tuareg associations, among which are the Association of the Refugees and Victims of Repression of Azawad (ARVRA) and the Association of Tuareg Refugees in Burkina Faso, which put the figure at 250 to 300,000 refugees.10
In fact in 1992, the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) organised an international day on the populations in danger, in which it revealed that the Tuareg are among the ten most threatened people on our planet, as repression and desertification had caused the death of thousands of people and animals while international aide had never reached the victims.
The hunt for the 'white man' by the Ganda Koy in Gao and Timbuctu, added to the smudges of the army, have increased the climate of suspicion. With the event of the MPGK, all the ingredients of a civil war are present, a war that will not risk raising the interest of the media since the Tuareg have always been a forgotten people.
The Tuareg in Niger
The Tuareg problem in Niger is quite different from that of Mali in a number of ways. The geographical proximity of Libya, an immediate neighbour, has weighed heavily, at least in the past, when, as has already been mentioned, Kaddafi showed himself particularly active. On the other hand, the northern region, fief of the rebels, is crossed for nearly 1000 km by the Trans-Saharan Highway, which links Algeria to the Gulf of Benin. This vital axis for exchange includes the excellent route of uranium extracted in the Arlit region of northern Niger, and consequently, the presence of important uranium mines around Arlit, between Agadez and the Algerian border, gives this Tuareg region an exceptionally important economic weight as uranium counts for 80% of Niger’s exports.
This particularly explains why the leaders of Niger ought to be hostile to any idea of a genuine decentralisation let alone autonomy for this northern region.. In fact, uranium exploitation during the last three decades has not equally benefited this mining region, but rather Niamey. Thus, in addition to a hostile ethnic prejudice, or even social antagonism founded on old memories, there exists an economic motivation to stifle any Tuareg protestation.
Niger achieved its independence from France in August 1960. The country's constitution was suspended in 1974, following the military coup that toppled Hamani Diori. He was replaced by the Supreme Military Counci1, under the leadership of Seyni Kountché until his death in November 1987. Then the Supreme Military Council appointed the chief of staff of the armed forces, Brig. Ali Seibou, who, as mentioned earlier, promised liberal measures and general amnesty for the Tuareg rebels. Yet, the army’s repression and massacre of the Tuareg, repatriated from Libya and Algeria at Tchin-Tabaraden in May 1990, and which claimed 600 victims, sparked the armed resistance. A national conference in the autumn of 1991, which was supposed to seal reconciliation between the government and the Tuareg rebellion, ended in failure and led to the birth of the Liberation Front of the Air and Azawaghll (FLAA) in September 1991, headed by Rhissa Boula. 
As was the case in Mali, repeated attempts at negotiations between the regime and the Tuareg dissidence led to splits within the FLAA. Thus, after the June 1993 truce, came the birth of the Revolutionary Army for the Liberation of the Northern Niger (ARLNN), led by Attaher Abdelmoumin, followed by the Temoust Liberation Front (FLT), led by Mano Dayak, and the Patriotic Front for the Liberation of the Sahara (FPLS), led by Mohamed Anako, in January 1994. 
As in Mali, differences between Tuareg dissident movements in Niger are not clear. Thus, in order to unify their political and military actions they were assembled in the Coordination of Armed Resistance (CRA), presided over by Mano Dayak. Accordingly, on 9 October 1994, an agreement was signed in Ouagadougou between the CRA and the government of Niger, with the mediation of Algeria, France and Burkina Faso12. This agreement established a three-month truce, tacitly renewable, and had as a principal consequence, the institution of an administrative decentralisation, foreseen in the constitution, thus discarding all claims for federalism advanced by some members of the Tuareg fronts. In fact, the Ouagadougou agreement has sidelined all vital measures concerning the economic, social and cultural future of the region. 
Everything tends to prove that the peace agreements between the Tuareg armed fronts—notably in April 1992 for the Malian side, and October 1994 for Niger—are simply hol1ow packaging, carefully proscribed by the governments' press, while opposition and rival currents within the parties in power venture to denounce the dysfunctioning of the accords. Moreover, the failure of attempts for settlement have often been attributed to the Tuareg without, at any time, questioning the role of the army and the militia. Thus, while the Malian regime turns a blind eye on the massacres perpetrated by the Songhay militia of the MPGK against the Tuareg, Libya and Niger armed Arab militia against the Tuareg. Allergic to anything which is Berber, Algeria and, particularly, Libya have often worked to cloud Berberness with Arabness and Islam. Niger, on the other hand, endeavoured to transform the political problem into an 'ethnic rivalry.’ As governments pretend to commit themselves to peaceful solutions, their armies and militias beat the war drum. 
Today, there is nothing astonishing if voices have already been raised to warn against the dangers of inter-ethnic drift in the region. The events of black governments in Mali and Niger have marked a radical change of balance. The rude remark of an irritated Tuareg leader, "We have become the slaves of our former slaves"IJ, says it all. No doubt, the raids of the past have left scars in the spirits of both sides, even though these practices have now ceased to exist for decades. It is also true that the plight of the black populations in Mauritania, Sudan, and Chad continues to upset those of the Sahel. The rancour of the blacks revives with the thought that the abductions of the past are witnessed by the subsistence of this cringing caste of Iklan (Bellas and Bouzous) even though the hierarchy of the Tuareg society has hitherto been put into question. Here comes the clumsy and exclusive reactions of the administrations born out of independence. The absence, in the administration and army, of representatives issued from the local Tuareg population, has not helped the situation. As for the armies of Mali and Niger, they have more often acted as instruments of revenge in the past than as the crucible of national unity, which they could have been cementing since independence. 
Today, the drama of the Tuareg of Mali and Niger makes it necessary and urgent to seek solutions, at the same time political, administrative, economic, and cultural, to the problems of ethnic groups of multiple nationalities living within the same state, and those dislocated between several states.
The centralised state units, issued from decolonisation, concentrate on the reproduction of the colonial administrative system, and, in particular, they contribute to its rigidity by its institutionalisation. By totally adapting themselves to European societies, these regimes are in a complete time-lag with pluri-ethnic societies, whose ways of life are radically different and firmly fixed mentally, namely, nomadic and sedentary. In the name of 'national unity,' the modern centralising state overlooks regionalism and diversity, especially as the state is, in essence, the expression and the historic product of settled elites. Thus, the feeling of agony and depression by the Tuareg community, particularly with the emergence of the new states, is understandable.
Throughout their demands for autonomy, the different armed Tuareg fronts believe that the problem they are facing highlights the failure of the centralised unitary state. They emphasise the non-representation of the Tuareg community within their states' institutions, for they have always been seen as second-class citizens.
The unitary state has permitted the concentration of economic and political powers in the hands of a few ethnic groups, at the expense of many others. Accordingly, a feeling of frustration and marginalisation invaded the minds of the Tuareg. The Tuareg movements, in their majority, are in no way secessionist. On the contrary, they acknowledge they belong to the national entities born out of decolonisation. Their sole fault, in the eyes of their regimes, is to claim self-administration of their regions and the respect of their identity in all its aspects. The different armed fronts, whether in Mali or Niger, call for federalism. In Mali, it is abandoned for the benefit of the 'particular status' of the northern regions of the country, contained in the National Pact of April 1992. This pact, which foresaw a large economic and political autonomy of the regions claimed by the MFUA, has not achieved any effective implementation since the date it was signed. In Niger, too, federalism has been ignored in favour of the 'autonomy of administration' of the regions claimed by the Tuareg opposition. The government proposed an 'enforced decentralisation' of all regions of Niger.
The first condition for defusing the Tuareg problem is, of course, the return of peace. This would only be achieved if the black leaders have the courage to come to an agreement on a real autonomy for this distinct community, instead of seeking to dissolve it. Autonomy does not necessarily mean secession, but rather the ability to self-administration, at least in regions where the population is entirely, or in its majority, Tuareg. Without significant local representation, the feeling of frustration will subsist. On the national level, the Tuareg ought to be brought from the periphery into the mainstream of their countries’ development. Their integration in the state's institutions would signify an action in the right direction.
As for Tuareg Society itself, we have seen to what extent it has been shaken, transformed and drastically shattered during the last three decades. Accordingly, it must make efforts of adaptation in order to preserve its culture, language and personality. The decline of nomadism, the levelling of social classes, settlement, adaptation to technology, and the constraints of the modern world are so many problems to solve, of difficulties to surmount, of changes to accept. As for the present, it seems doubtful whether this cloud over the heads of the Tuareg will give way to a silver lining.
The Tuareg country
taoureg2.jpg (792574 octets)
1. Johanne Nicolaison, Ecology and Culture of the Pastoral Tuareg, Copenhagen, 1963, pp. 411-479.
2. Jeremy Keenan, "Social Change Among the Tuareg of Ahaggar (Algeria)," in Ernest Gellner & Charles Micaud (eds.), Arabs and Berbers, From Tribe to Nation in North Africa, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London, 1973, pp. 345-360.
3. Jeremy Keenan, Op. cit. p. 354.
4. Jeremy Keenan, Op. cit. p. 360.
5. What collective interest would the Kel Tamasheq have to fight under the banner of Kaddafj's Panarabism? Iyad Ag Aghali. General Secretary of the Azawad Popular Movement (MPA), confirmed in the Autumn of 1989: "We owe Libya nothing," see GEO. n. 134, April 1990. p.31.
6. Ibid.
7. On this occasion, with the incitation of Algeria and Libya, a new movement known as the Arab Islamic Front of the Azawad (FIAA), was created with the hope of eclipsing the Tuareg-Berber movement (MPA). The FIAA, led by Zahaby Ould Sidi Mohamed, is the only front to openly claim Arabness and Islam. It apparently benefits from the aid of a rich trading bourgeoisie, as well as from some Arab states, particularly Libya.
8. See Keesing's Record of World Events, Vol. 40, N. 5, 1994. p. 39996
9. See Supplément à Imazighen Ass-A (Paris), N.3 August 1995.
10. See Tidawt (Dakar) N.OO September 1995.
11. The Azawad is the Western Plain of the Adrar-n-Iforas in Mali.  The Azawagh is the Western Plain of the Air in Niger.
12. Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1995, p.31.
13. Marchés Tropicaux et Mediterranéens, N. 2478, 7 May 1993, p. 1188...YI...
(*) Visiting Researcher, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, GB.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The great Mali



"Mali guards its secrets jealously. There are things which the uninitiated will never know, for the griots, their depositories, will never betray them."
Oral history, recited by Malian djeli (or oral historian) Mamadou Kouyate.
Mali emerged against the back-drop of a declining of Ghana under the dynamic leadership of Sundiata of the Keita clan. But the region he took over had a past rich in trade and powerful rulers.

Ancient Mali JENNE
There was also the city of Jenne-Jeno (ancient Jenne), which archaeologists have now established was first settled in 200 BC, and only began losing its pre-eminence in the 12th century. Between whiles, it was a vital crossroads in the north-south trade. Recent excavations reveal high levels of craftsmanship in pottery, iron-work and jewellery making. This suggests the people of Jenne imported iron ore, stone grinders and beads.
"He was a lad full of strength; his arms had the strength of ten and his biceps inspired fear in his companions. He had already that authoritative way of speaking which belongs to those who are destined to command."
SOUMAORO THE VILLAIN "Since his accession to the throne of Sosso, he had defeated nine kings whose heads served him as objects in his macabre chamber. Their skins served as seats and he cut his footwear from human skin."
Taken from The Epic of Old Mali, recited by the griot (oral historian) Djeli Mamadou Kouyate, edited by D. T. Niane.

Sundiata Keita rose to power by defeating the king of the Sosso - Soumaoro (Sumanguru), known as the Sorcerer King, in 1235. He then brought all the Mandinke clans rulers (or Mansas) under his leadership, declaring himself overall Mansa. He took Timbuktu from the Tuareg, transforming it into a substantial city, a focus for trade and scholarship.

A significant portion of the wealth of the Empire derived from the Bure goldfields. The first capital, Niani, was built close to this mining area.

Mali at its largest was 2,000 kilometres wide. It extended from the coast of West Africa, both above the Senegal River and below the Gambia River, taking in old Ghana, and reaching south east to Gao and north east to Tadmekka.

Atlantic Trade Winds and Currents LAND
Gold was not its only mainstay. Mali also acquired control over the salt trade. The capital of Niani was situated on the agriculturally rich floodplain of upper Niger, with good grazing land further north. A class of professional traders emerged in Mali. Some were of Mandinka origin, others were Bambara, Soninke and later Dyula. Gold dust and agricultural produce was exported north. In the 14th century, cowrie shells were established as a form of currency for trading and taxation purposes.

Mali reached its peak in the 14th century. Three rulers stand out in this period. The first one, Abubakar II, goes down in history as the king who wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
"So Abubakar equipped 200 ships filled with men and the same number equipped with gold, water, and provisions, enough to last them for years…they departed and a long time passed before anyone came back. Then one ship returned and we asked the captain what news they brought.

He said, 'Yes, Oh Sultan, we travelled for a long time until there appeared in the open sea a river with a powerful current…the other ships went on ahead, but when they reached that place, they did not return and no more was seen of them…As for me, I went about at once and did not enter the river.'

The Sultan got ready 2,000 ships, 1,000 for himself and the men whom he took with him, and 1,000 for water and provisions. He left me to deputise for him and embarked on the Atlantic Ocean with his men. That was the last we saw of him and all those who were with him.

And so, I became king in my own right."
Mansa Musa, talking to Syrian scholar Al-Umari.

Listen hereClick here to listen to Malian praise singer Sadio Diabate, singing about Abubakar II

Abubakar II's successor, Mansa Musa (1312-1337) was immortalised in the descriptions of Arab writers, when he made his magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.
"It is said that he brought with him 14,000 slave girls for his personal service. The members of his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish and Ethiopia slave girls, singing girls and garments, so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six dirhams. Having presented his gift he set off with the caravan."
Cairo born historian al-Maqurizi.

Mansa Musa also spent his wealth to more permanent effect. He commissioned the design and construction of a number of stunning buildings, for example, the building of the mosques at Gao and Jenne. At Niani he was responsible for the construction of a fantastic cupola for holding an audience in. Timbuktu became a place of great learning with young men linked to Fez in the north.

The other famous Malian ruler was Mansa Suleiman. Less is known of him. The historian Ibn Khaldun describes the considerable gifts he assembled for a Sultan in the north. But Ibn Battuta criticises his meanness.
On arriving in Mali, Ibn Battuta does not mince his words. "He is a miserly king, not much giving is to be expected from him. It happened that I stayed this period and did not seen him because of my sickness…"
Finally Mansa Suleiman sends Ibn Battuta a gift, but it is definitely not up to Ibn Battuta's standards.
"Behold - three circular pieces of bread, a piece of beef fried in gharti, and a calabash of sour milk. When I saw them, I laughed and wondered a lot…"

So he complains.
"I stood before the sultan and said to him, 'I have indeed travelled in the lands of the world. I have met their kings. I have been in your country four months and you have given me no hospitality and not given me anything. What shall I say about you before the Sultans?"

And that does the trick. Mansa Suleiman claims that he had not even realised Ibn Battuta was in town and hastily makes amends for the previous omissions in hospitality.
"Then the Sultan ordered a house for me in which I stayed and he fixed an allowance for me…He was gracious to me at my departure, to the extent of giving me one hundred mitqals of gold."

The court of Mali converted to Islam after Sundiata. As in Ghana, Muslim scribes played an important role in government and administration. But traditional religion persisted. Arab historians make much of the Islamic influence in Mali, whereas oral historians place little emphasis on Islam in their histories.
The relationship between the Mansas of Mali and the people who worked on the gold fields is worth noting. The rulers received taxes from the miners in the form of gold, but they never exercised direct control over the mining process. At one point, the miners stopped working when the Mansas tried to convert them to Islam.

"To some aspect they look the same, the gold, the way they made trade. But to the opposite of Ghana, I think Mali was really able to have more territory beyond some of the area Ghana went to, like Taghaza, the salt gulf, that was all part of the empire of Mali.

So territorial position was one of the greatest differences between Ghana and Mali. And also, the kind of ties Mali was able to make with peoples outside of Africa, is one of the great differences between the two empires…Mali was much much more international than Ghana was."
Tereba Togola, Head of Archaeology at the Institute of Human Sciences, Bamako. He is responsible for all archaeological research in Mali.

Listen hereClick here to listen to Dr. Tereba Togola

A combination of weak and ineffective rulers and increasingly aggressive raids by Mossi neighours and Tuareg Berbers gradually reduced the power of Mali. In the east, Gao began its ascendancy while remaining part of the Mali Empire.

In the early 1400's, Tuareg launched a number of successful raids on Timbuktu. They did not disrupt scholastic life or commercial activity, but fatally undermined the government by appropriating taxes for themselves.

Meanwhile Gao had become the capital of the burgeoning Songhay Empire which, by 1500, had totally eclipsed Mali. But the idea of Mali regaining its former splendour and glory, remained strong in the minds of many Mandinka for generations to come.
One of the most internationally famous Malians today is musician Salif Keita. He is the descendant of Mansa Sundiata, born into a noble but poor family. His decision to become a musician was very much frowned upon by his family, since music was the province of a lower caste, the djelis.

Listen hereClick here to listen to an excerpt of Salif Keita, singing Tekere, a song about applauding griots, musicians and Malians


ALTERNATE NAMES: Mandinka; Maninka; Manding; Mandingo; Mandin; Mande
LOCATION: Territory covering The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra     Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
POPULATION: 1.5 million
LANGUAGE: Variations of Mande languages


Liberia's population of over 2 million steadily declined in the 1990s. During the 1989–96 civil war, as many as two hundred thousand people died and another seven hundred thousand became refugees. Liberia's population consists of over two dozen ethnic groups, which fall into three main language groups: Kru (east and southeast), Mel (northwest), and Mande (north and far west). The Malinke are a Mande-speaking group.
The Malinke are also commonly referred to as Mandinka, Maninka, Manding, Mandingo, Mandin, and Mande. They live in areas of sub-Saharan Africa that have a history of agricultural settlements dating as far back as 7,000 years.
The Malinke are heirs to the great Mali Empire, a medieval merchant empire that flourished from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century and greatly influenced the history of western Africa. Malinke territories in the northern region of Africa were brought under Muslim control in the eleventh century. The renowned city of Islamic teaching, Timbuctu, was also part of the vast and prosperous Mali Empire. The empire declined in the fifteenth century and was gradually absorbed by the Songhai Kingdom, which extended to the seventeenth century.
As early as 1444, Portuguese traders had enslaved the first Malinke people, and in the next three and a half centuries, thousands of Malinke and other peoples were transported by Portuguese, British, French, and Dutch merchants to the Caribbean and the Americas to work as slaves on plantations. During the nineteenth century the kingdoms of the Malinke peoples were subjugated by the British, French, and Portuguese and were incorporated into their colonial systems.
The Malinke people gained some popular attention when American author Alex Haley published his best-selling book, Roots (1974), later made into a television series. The story of Haley's ancestral family and the book's main character, Kunta Kinte of the Mandinka (Malinke) people, personalized the terrible plight of African slaves and their families who were sold into slavery.
The Malinke were not only victims of the slave trade, but they were also perpetrators of the institution, having had a long history of owning and maintaining slaves. There were two distinct kinds of slaves to be found: those who had been captured in battle or purchased; and those who had been born into the slave families of their village. The indigenous slave trade persisted into the nineteenth century.


Today there are more than 1.5 million Malinke distributed over several African nations within a wide arc that extends 800 miles (1,300 kilometers). The region starts at the mouth of the Gambia River in the northwest and circles around in a bow form, ending in the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in the southeast. The territory includes areas in the nations of The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire. There are numerous other African ethnic groups sharing these areas.


The Malinke peoples speak slight variations of the broad Mande branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. The term "Mande" frequently refers to a group of closely related languages spoken by the Malinke and other west African peoples such as the Bambara, the Soninke, and the Dyula.


Details of the early days of the Mali Empire and the lifestyles of the people have been kept alive for centuries through the epic poem, Sonjara (or Sundiata ; also Sunjata ), which has been sung for generations by the griots , bards or praise-singers of West Africa. In over 3,000 lines of poetry in the oral tradition, the epic tells the story of Sonjara, a legendary leader who, after countless obstacles and trials, unites the Malinke clans and chiefdoms at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Sonjara is unable to walk as a child because of a spell put on him by his father's jealous second wife. Sonjara finally learns to walk and becomes a hunter, giving up his claim to the throne during a long exile with his mother and siblings. A delegation from Mali comes to him and begs him to return and save them from an evil sorcerer-king, Sumanguru. Sonjara organizes an army to regain his throne. With help from his sister, who seduces Sumanguru in order to learn his weaknesses, and after many bloody battles, Sonjara's army defeats the forces of Sumanguru.


The majority of the Malinke are Muslim (followers of Islam) and have adapted the teachings of Islam into their native beliefs. Most Malinke villages have a mosque. Women sit separate from the men, both in the mosque and during outside religious services. Those villagers who have made the hajj(pilgrimage) to Mecca, or even descendants of those who have made the journey, are highly respected.
The principal religious leader is the elected imam, an elder who leads prayers at the mosques and has great religious knowledge. The other Islamic clerics who play major roles as healers and religious counselors are the marabouts . They are respected as preservers of morality through oral tradition and teachers of the Koran (sacred text of Islam). They are perceived to be experts at preventing and healing ailments or injuries inflicted by mortals or those that are believed to have been inflicted by evil spirits.


The favorite is Muslim holiday is Tabaski, which usually falls in the spring or summer, the day being determined according to the Islamic lunar calendar. Tabaski commemorates the moment when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God's command, when God interceded and provided a ram instead. It is prestigious to have a very large and fat ram to slaughter for the holiday. On this day people attend the mosque, and there is much eating (especially roasted mutton) and visiting of friends. Other religious holidays include the Feast of Ramadan celebrated at the end of the annual thirty-day Muslim fast, and Muhammad's birthday.


A week after the birth of an infant, the Malinke hold a name-giving ceremony. A marabout leads prayers during the ceremony, shaves the infant's head, and announces the name of the child for the first time.
Puberty rites and circumcision are very significant in the lives of the Malinke, both male and female. It is the most important rite of passage, for one cannot attain adulthood or marry without it. For boys the rite is held about once every five years and includes novices from six to thirteen years old, who may be in a group of thirty to forty-five boys. Boys are kept secluded for six to eight weeks of instruction before circumcision.
Girls are circumcised in smaller groups, and the ceremonies occur more frequently. The girls stay secluded for ten days to two weeks. During this time they are taught Malinke values and how to work together as a group. In recent years there has been pressure to conduct female circumcisions in clinics or to stop them altogether. In general, however, the older generation is very reluctant to let go of these traditional rituals.
Marriage for a Malinke girl may begin with her betrothal at birth to a boy who may be as old as twelve. The preferred marriage arrangement is for a betrothal between a boy and his mother's brother's daughter. Prior to marriage, the suitor makes several payments of a bride price (including money, kola nuts, salt, and some livestock) to the parents of the prospective bride. The typical Malinke wedding, called a "bride transfer," takes place on a Thursday or Friday—the two holiest days of the week.
For funerals, a corpse is ritually bathed and buried on its right side, head facing east, feet to the north. A fence is built around the grave to protect it from animals; sticks are put over the hole. During the next forty-five days, three mortuary ceremonies are held at which oil cakes and kola nuts are distributed to those attending.


When the Malinke encounter a family member or friend, an extensive ritual exchange of formal greeting questions can take up to a minute. They might say, "Peace be with you," "Is your life peaceful?", "How is everything going?", "Are your family members in good health?", "How is your father?", or "Is the weather treating your crops well?" The questions go back and forth and may end with, "Thanks be to Allah." Even if one is not feeling well or if things are not going well, the answers are usually positive. It is considered very bad manners not to engage in the lengthy greeting exchange.
If a guest drops by at mealtime, he or she will surely be invited to share the meal. Those who have been blessed by Allah (God) with wealth are expected to share some of theirs with others.


The Malinke who live in the cities have adapted to an urban lifestyle. Most, however, still live in traditional villages of anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people. The villages are rather compact, consisting of groups of compounds enclosed by millet-stalk fences. A compound contains several cylindrical houses built of sun-baked bricks or wattle and daub, with a thatched roof; there will also be a granary and a separate cylindrical kitchen with low half-walls and a thatched roof. Houses are grouped around a center courtyard that may contain a well.
For transportation, a bicycle, an occasional motorbike, an ox cart, or a horse cart are used by those who can afford them. More frequently, villagers walk to catch a bus or perhaps share a taxi, or they simply walk to their destination. Women do not have much opportunity to leave their villages, and travel for women is discouraged by the Malinke culture.


The Malinke consider large families to be important. A large compound with brothers and their wives will always be bustling with family members of several generations and children of many ages. The Malinke practice polygyny (multiple wives), and Islam permits men to take up to four wives. The expensive bride price and the fact that society requires that all wives be provided for equally means that only prosperous men can afford several wives.
Women are always busy with some kind of work, while it is common to see men sitting under a tree in the village square, chatting with other men and having a smoke and some tea. The household heads have the authority to make all important decisions, although women wield significant power behind the scenes.
The social organization of the Malinke is based on an ancient caste (class) system into which members are born. A Malinke can never change the caste-status into which he or she is born. There is rarely marriage between individuals of different castes. In an average village, however, the differences in wealth or status among the castes is barely visible. The size of the family is often more of an indication of wealth; small families with few children and few extended family members are thought of as poor and unfortunate.


Today, Malinke who live in urban centers, especially the men, may have adopted Western-style clothes. Villagers, on the other hand, take pride in their traditional clothing, which is important to them. In fact, one of the obligations of a husband is to give each wife the cloth for at least two new outfits every year.
Women generally wear a loose, scoop-necked smock over a long skirt made by a wrap-around piece of cloth. They often tie a matching piece of cloth around their head in an informal turban, each woman's turban having its own special flair. They use brightly colored cotton prints with splashy, large designs; some also wear tie-dyed, wood-block, or batik prints. The traditional casual dress for men is made with the same bright prints fashioned in an outfit that resembles pajamas.
For formal occasions men and women may wear the grand boubou . For women this is a loose dress that extends to ground level and may be trimmed in lace or embroidery. For men it is a long robe-like garment covering long pants and a shirt. Many middle-aged or elder men wear knit caps. Shoes are leather or rubber thongs.

12 • FOOD

Traditional Malinke are cultivators who grow varieties of millet, sorghum, rice (in the swampy areas), and corn as staple crops. As cash crops they grow peanuts and cotton, and to supplement their diet and gain a bit of income, they grow diverse vegetables in garden plots. Some villages have a bakery where small loaves of French-style bread are baked.
The wealthier Malinke own some livestock—cattle, goats, chickens, and perhaps a horse for plowing. The cattle are used for milk and for the prestige of owning them; they are rarely slaughtered. There is little meat in the diet. Those who live near rivers or lakes may supplement their meals with fish.
A typical breakfast might consist of corn porridge eaten with a spoon made of a small, elongated calabash (gourd) split in half. The midday and evening meals may consist of rice or couscous with sauce (often peanut) and/or vegetables. Couscous can be made of pounded and steamed millet, sorghum, or cornmeal.
Tea-time is an important break for the Malinke. Tea is made by filling a small pot with dried tea leaves and covering these with boiling water. The brewed tea is extremely strong and is served with several small spoons of sugar in tiny glasses. After the first round of tea, the pot is filled with boiling water a second and third time, thus the second and third rounds of tea are a bit diminished in strength.


Many villages today have a government school as well aa a Koranic (Islamic) school for learning to recite verses from the Koran. The educational model of the government schools is based on those of the ex-colonial masters, either French or British. Since the nations where the Malinke are found today have many other tribal peoples, it is likely that the school teachers are of a different ethnic group and do not speak the Malinke language. Further, instruction is often in French of English, making it difficult for Malinke children.
Poor attendance and high drop-out rates are common in the village schools. Muslim parents often do not think it is as important for their daughters to get an education as it is for their sons, so the enrollment of boys is much higher than that of girls. Only a small percentage of the village pupils pass the state examination at the end of sixth grade in order to go on to high school. In the countries where the Malinke live, generally less than half the population is able to read and write.


Much of the cultural heritage of the Malinke is embedded in the great Mali merchant empire of the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries and the Islamic religion that was adopted by the chieftains. There was a flourishing trade in gold, and many ornate ornaments, jewelry, and staffs of gold date from that period. Additionally, the cultural heritage has been immortalized in the famous epic poem Sonjara , sung by minstrels since the thirteenth century ( see Folklore).


Farming is a respected occupation, and all members of society are given farming tasks. The children, too, guard the fields against wild boar, monkeys, and birds. The Malinke use natural fertilizer, allowing livestock to graze on the fields lying fallow; and children are often seen tending the livestock Men do the plowing, sowing, planting, and a major part of the harvesting work. Some also engage in hunting and fishing. Women do weeding and tend vegetable plots.


Boys might be seen playing soccer with a homemade ball. They enjoy listening to soccer matches, both national and international, on the radio, or watching matches on television in town; many Malinke men and boys can recite the names of international soccer stars.


In addition to the storytelling and music provided by the griots, the Malinke like to listen to the radio. For those living in villages with electricity, a television set is a prized item. It is common for large groups of villagers to gather at the home of the television's owner.
Woaley is a board game similar to back-gammon. It is a major pastime for the Malinke as well as for other West Africans. The board is in the form of a rectangle with twelve indentations to hold beans, and two larger indentations at the ends to hold the captured beans. Both spectators and players of all ages enjoy woaley matches. (The game is referred to by many other names—such as mancala , and is played all over the world in slight variations.)


Present-day hobbies of Malinke young men include such things as collecting cassette tapes of their favorite singers (such as reggae singers from Jamaica or American rock stars). Young women enjoy braiding each other's hair, making decorative rows or braiding in long strands of synthetic hair.


Since the Malinke are socialized with a strong sense of responsibility to their family and lineage, many of the social problems that are prevalent in industrialized society are not encountered. AIDS and the spread of venereal diseases by men who have brought these back from urban areas is a problem in some places. There is malnutrition and a lack of understanding of its causes. Some people view the situation of women as a social problem. Women have fewer opportunities for education, fewer rights, and share a husband with co-wives.


Haley, Alex. Roots. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976.
McNaughton, Patrick R. The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1988.
Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Africans South of the Sahara . 1st ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.
Sallah, Tijan M. Wolof. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1996.

Read more: Malinke - Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Major holidays, Rites of passage, Relationships, Living conditions