Bambara people

Bambara people

Infobox Ethnic group
group=Bambara, Bamana

caption =Bambara people in upper Sénégal river valley, 1890. (illustration from Colonel Frey's Côte occidentale d'Afrique, 1890, Fig.49 p.87)
poptime =2,700,000 (2005)
popplace=Mali, Guinée, Sénégal, Burkina Faso,Niger,
langs=Bambara language
related=Mandinka people, Soninke people, Diola, other Mande speaking groups.|

The Bambara ("Bamana" in their own language, or sometimes "Banmana") are a Mande people living in west Africa, primarily in Mali but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. [Cite web |url= |title=Tribal African Art Bambara (Bamana, Banmana) |accessdate=2008-07-08 | - African Art Museum] [Cite book |last=den Otter |first=Elisabeth |coauthor=Esther A. Dagan |title=Puppets and masks of the Bamana and the Bozo (Mali) - from The Spirit's Dance in Africa |url= |publisher=Galerie Amrad African Arts Publications |date=1997] They are considered to be amongst the largest Mande ethnic groups, and are the dominant Mande group in Mali, with 80% of the population speaking the Bambara language, regardless of ethnicity.


There remains debate about the exact meaning of the name "Bamanan". [Cite book | last=Djata |first=Sundiata A. K. |title=The Bamana Empire by the Niger: Kingdom, Jihad and Colonization 1712-1920 |location=Princeton, NJ |publisher=Markus Wiener Publishers |date=1997 |isbn=1558761314] The name "Bamana" has been said to mean "Those who reject God" ("infidel" or "barbarian") derived from the Mande words "Ban" (to reject or rebel) and "ana" (God). It seems unlikely that Muslim neighbors in the era before conversion would name the Bamana in their own language, and the Bamana did accept "their" god or gods, making it an unlikely name to give themselves. Some Banmana people, in contrast, have translated the name as "accepting of no master". There is no consensus on the name's origin or meaning. The name "Bambara" is likely an inaccurate French transliteration of "Banmana".


The Bamana originated as a section of the Mandinka people, the founders of the Mali Empire in the 13th Century. Both a part of the Mandé ethnic group, whose earliest known history can be traced back to sites near Tichitt (now subsumbed by the Sahara in southern Mauritania), where urban centers began as early as 1500 BCE. By 250 BCE a Mande subgroup, the Bozo, founded the city of Djenne. Between 300 CE and 1100 CE the Soninke Mande dominated the Western Sudan, leading the Ghana Empire. When the Mandé Songhai Empire dissolved after 1600 CE, many Mandé speaking groups along the upper Niger river bassin turned inward. The Bamana appeared in this milieu with the rise of the Bamana Empire in the 1740s.

Growing from farming communities in Ouassoulou, between Sikasso and Côte-d’Ivoire, Bamana age co-fraternities (called "Ton"s) began to develop a state structure which became the Bambara Empire. In stark contrast to their Muslim neighbors, the Bamana state practised and formalised traditional polytheistic religion, though Muslim communities remained locally powerful, if excluded from the central state at Segu.

The Bamana became the dominant cultural community in western Mali. The Bambara language, mutually intelligible with the Manding and Diola languages, has become the principal interethnic language in Mali and the an official language of the state alongside French.



Although most Bamana today adhere to Islam, many still practise the traditional rituals, especially in honoring ancestors. This form of syncretic Islam remains rare, even allowing for conversions that in many cases happened in the mid to late 19th century. This recent history, though, contributes to the richness and fame (in the West) of Bamana ritual arts.

ocial structure

Bamana share many aspects of broader Mandé social structure. Society is patrilineal and patriarchal, though virtually no women wear a veil. Mandé culture is known for its strong fraternal orders and sororities ("Ton") and the history of the Bambara Empire strengthened and preserved these orders. The first state was born as a refashioning of hunting and youth "Ton"s into a warrior caste. As conquests of their neighbors were successful, the state created the "Jonton" ("Jon" = slave), or slave warrior caste, replenished by warriors captured in battle. While slaves were excluded from inheritance, the Jonton leaders forged a strong corporate identity. Their raids fed the Segu economy with goods and slaves for trade, and bonded agricultural laborers who were resettled by the state.


Traditionally, Mandé society is hierarchal or caste-based, with nobility and vassals. Bamana political order created a small free nobility, set in the midst of endogamous caste and ethnic variation. Both castes and ethnic groups performed vocational roles in the Bamana state, and this differentiation increased with time. For instance, the Maraka merchants developed towns focused first on desert side trade, and latter on large scale agricultural production using slaves captured by the state. The Jula specialised in long distance trade, as did Fula communities within the state, who added this to cattle herding. The Bozo ethnicity were largely created out of war captives, and turned by the state to fishing and ferrying communities.

In addition to this, the Bamana maintained internal castes, like other Mandé peoples, with Griot historian/praise-singers, priests, metalworkers, and other specialist vocations remaining endogamous and living in designated areas. Formerly, like most other African societies, they also held slaves ("Jonw"/"Jong(o)"), often war prisoners from lands surrounding their territory. With time, and the collapse of the Bamana state these caste differences have eroded, though vocations have strong family and ethnic correlations.

The Ton

The Bamana have continued in many places their tradition of caste and age group inauguration societies, known as Ton. While this is common to most Mandé societies, the Ton tradition is especially strong in Bamana history. Tons can be by sex (initiation rites for young men and women), age (with the earlier young men's "Soli" Ton living separately from the community and providing farm labor prior to taking wives), or vocation (the farming Chi Wara Ton or the hunters Donzo Ton). While these societies continue as ways of socialising and passing on traditions, their power and importance faded in the 20th century.

Bambara art

The Bamana people adapted many artistic traditions. Artworks were created both for religious use and to define cultural and religious difference. Bamana artistic traditions include pottery, sculpture, weaving, iron figures, and masks. While the tourist and art market is the main destination of modern Bamana artworks, most artistic traditions had been part of sacred vocations, created as a display of religious beliefs and used in ritual.

Bamana forms of art include the "n’tomo" mask and the Tyi Warra. The "n’tomo" mask was used by dancers at male initiation ceremonies. The Tyi Warra (or "ciwara") headdress was used at harvest time by young men chosen from the farmers association. Other Bamana statues include fertility statues, meant to be kept with the wife at all times to ensure fertility, and statues created for vocational groups such as hunters and farmers, often used as offering places by other groups after prosperous farming seasons or successful hunting parties.

Each special creative trait a person obtained was seen as a different way to please higher spirits. Powers throughout the Bamana art making world were used to please the ancestral spirits and show beauty in what they believed in. Hampate Ba, a Malian philosopher and writer, stated "we have learned weavers, sculptors, potters and smiths were members of exclusive societies in which the masters, assisted by their servants, taught the apprentices the sacred craft. Rather than derive money...they devoted themselves to the sacred craft in order to please the gods and the spirits of the ancestors." Fact|date=January 2007

ee also

*Bambara language
*Bambara Empire


*Cite journal|last=Imperato |first=Pascal James |title=The Dance of the Tyi Wara |journal=African Arts |date=1970 |pages=8-13, 71-80 |volume=4 |issue=1
*Cite book |last=Le Barbier |first=Louis |title=Études africaines : les Bambaras, mœurs, coutumes, religions |location=Paris |pages=42 |date=1918 fr icon
*Cite journal|last=McNaughton |first=Patrick R. |title=Bamana Blacksmiths |journal=African Arts |date=1979 |pages=65-66, 68-71, 91 |volume=12 |issue=2
*Cite book |last=Pharr |first=Lillian E. |title=Chi-Wara headdress of the Bambara: A select, annotated bibliography |date=1980 |oclc=8269403 |publisher=Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution |location=Washington DC
*Cite book |last=Roberts |first=Richard L. |title=Warriors, Merchants and Slaves: The State and the Economy in the Middle Niger Valley 1700-1914 |isbn=0804713782 |date=1987
*Cite journal|last=Roberts |first=Richard L. |title=Production and Reproduction of Warrior States: Segu Bambara and Segu Tokolor |date=1980 |journal=The International Journal of African Historical Studies |pages=389-419 |volume=13 |issue=3
*Cite book |last=Tauxier |first=Louis |title=Histoire des Bambara |location=Paris |date=1942 |pages=226 |publisher=P. Geuthner fr icon
*Cite journal|last=Wooten |first=Stephen R. |title=Antelope Headdresses and Champion Farmers: Negotiating Meaning and Identity through the Bamana Ciwara Complex |journal=African Arts |volume=33 |issue=2 |date=2000 |pages=18-33, 89-90
*Cite book |last=Zahan |first=Dominique |title=Antilopes du soleil: Arts et rites agraires d'Afrique noire |edition=A. Schendl |location=Paris |date=1980 |isbn=3852680697

External links

* [ "Who are the Bamana?" - Princeton Online]
* [ Photo documents of Bambara art and other information regarding other African tribal art]
* [ "Civilisation et art bambara (ou bamana)"] fr icon
* [ Documentary on a rural Bamana village in Mali] fr icon

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