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Mali - Culture

Mali Culture

The largest tribe in Mali is the Bambara, who occupy many of the civil servant positions, but it is the Dogons and the Tuareg who practice a more traditional way of life. 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. The Dogons are incredibly industrious farmers living on the edges of a long narrow escarpment in the inland delta. 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 abilities and elaborate masks.

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. 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. Jalis music has been actively encouraged by official policy that values African music over western influences. Mali's most famous musician, Salif Keita, is an ambassador for griot music and although he now resides in Paris there have been rumours that he occasionally turns up to play with the legendary Rail Band in Bamako.

The food in Mali is similar to that found in Senegal. On the menu can be found poulet yassa (grilled chicken in chilli sauce), riz yollof (vegetables or meat cooked in a sauce of oil and tomato) and couscous. Along the Niger fish dishes are popular and include Nile perch (or capitaine) either fried or grilled or, in more imaginative moments, stewed or baked.

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