BAMANA Information

Location: Central Mali
Population: 2 million
Language: Bamana (Mande)
Neighbors: Malinke, Bwa, Bobo, Fulani
Types of Art: The artistic tradition of the Bamana is rich, filled with pottery, sculptures, beautiful bokolanfini cloth, and wrought iron figures fashioned by blacksmiths. They also have extensive masking traditions, which are used as a form of social control and community education.
History: The Bamana are members of the Mande culture, a large and powerful group of peoples in western Africa. Kaarta and Segou are Bamana city-states, which were established in the 17th century and continued to have political influence throughout the western Sudan states into the 19th century. At this time religious wars broke out throughout the region, setting Islamized societies against those who preferred to embrace traditional Bamana views. A dichotomy between traditional and Islamic views still exists today in Mali, and one may expect to encounter representations of both cultures existing side by side and quite often in syncretic combinations.
Economy: Those members of Bamana society who still live in rural villages continue to rely on subsistence farming as the most common means of livelihood. As is true in most of Africa, hunting is an important way to supplement the diet. There are also numerous crafts people who trade their wares in the local market. Potters, weavers, sculptors, and leather workers are extensively trained in their respective art for up to eight years. They supply the community with objects required for daily living and also carry their work to urban centers, where they can be sold for a small profit.
Political Systems: The Bamana are a patrilineal and patrilocal society, with extended families that range from 100 to 1000 members acting as the basic governing unit. These are then organized into villages with a chief at the head, whose position is determined by kinship ties within the community. Six major initiation societies contribute to the social control of the people of the community through education. The political hierarchy of family heads and village chiefs is directly connected to the positions of individuals within the initiation groups. As such, those who control the politics of the community simultaneously control the religious structure.
Religion: The religion of the Bamana is directly related to the initiation societies (dyow). As an initiate moves through the six societies, he or she is taught vital issues concerning societal concepts of the moral conduct of life, which contribute to the overall well-being of the individual and the community. Through the six levels of education the initiate learns the importance of knowledge and secrecy, is taught to challenge sorcery, and learns about the dual nature of mankind, the necessity for hard labor in the production of crops, and the realities of surviving from day to day. The final dyow, the kore, is devised to allow a man to regain that portion of his spirit that has been lost to the god through the process of reincarnation. If a man is unable to regain his spirit for several lifetimes, he will be entirely absorbed by the god and will cease to exist on Earth. The goal of the initiate then is to usurp the power of the god and remain on Earth, undergoing endless reincarnation.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,