I tend to rail on people who generalize about Africa, but I also realize that cultures south of the Sahara have a lot in common. This post from Akila and Patrick, about a cooking class in Zambia, reminded me of that fact. Women append their babies to their backs with vibrant pagnes, vegetables are cut while they’re held in the hands, and a heavy starch is a central part of the diet.
True in Zambia. True in Mali, nearly 10,000 km away.
The similarities between sub-Saharan cultures can be seen from a car window. The differences often require deeper digging, but it is a fruitful search. In Mali, it’s not uncommon for me to call someone a bean eater when I am introduced to them. I may also call them a peanut farmer and tell them that I am their father. It all depends on their last name. In Mali, home to the Bambara, Sonrai, Peul, Dogon, Bozo, and Kel Tamashek ethnic groups, among others, hurling insults is the national ice breaker. And let me tell you something, exchanging insults is a lot more fun than asking someone what they do for a living.
In this post, I want to talk about something that may or may not be evident from my earlier reports: Malians have an enormous amount of national pride, moreso than any other country I’ve visited, in Africa and elsewhere. This is perhaps because of Mali’s rich history. Mali was home to several different empires and kingdoms, and even before large state organization, there were centers like Djenné-Jéno, widely considered to have been highly urbanized and advanced for the time period. Maybe Malians are well stocked with pride because they realize they are responsible for some of the most dynamic music on the planet. Or maybe it’s because Mali has a strong civil society and a past that is free of war.
In any case, I want to give you some audio-visual evidence of Malian pride.
This song features Djeneba Seck’s effortless delivery and a hair-raising Njarka solo. Maliba literally translates to “big Mali.” Side note: in Bambara, ba as a suffix means something is big. If you want to say something is really big, you say bele bele ba (pronounced billy billy ba. Go ahead, say it.) Maliba means a bit more than “big Mali,” though. In French you would say “le grand Mali,” a slightly better approximation of what Djeneba is saying: Mali is the place. The audio may not be perfectly aligned with video, but there is a lot to appreciate in this homage.
Iba One, widely known for his song Alhamdoulillaye, is one of the most popular artists in Mali. He made this song in honor of Mali’s 50th birthday last year. It is more or less a club banger that praises Mali as much as it gets people moving on the dance floor. The video features Iba One dancing in a computer lab and shaking hands with construction workers, among other things. Also present: Sidiki Diabate, son of famed kora player Toumani Diabate. This video makes me smile.
It almost seems as if Ms. Seck and Iba One were commissioned by Mali’s tourism board to craft these tributes. Nope. This is just how most Malians feel about their country. It’s not unfounded, either. If you’ve been to Mali, you know it is a special place.
So, who has the most pride? Have a challenger to Mali? Let’s generalize, make some impossible to prove statements and have some silly arguments in the comments.