The Bambara (Bambara: Bamana or Banmana) are ancient artistic, agriculturalist and Mandé-speaking people living in west Africa, primarily in Mali but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. They are considered to be amongst the largest Mandé ethnic groups, and are the dominant Mandé group in Mali, with 80% of the population speaking the Bambara language, regardless of ethnicity.

                      Colourful dressing of Bambara young men, Mopti, Mali. giuseppedr

Across the border in Mauritania, there are about 2000 Bambara living near the town of Timbedra. The Bambara live in the middle valley of the Niger River.
Beautiful Bambara girl, Mali. tapperoa

The Bambara people are the famous ancient people that formed the great pre-colonial Bamana kingdom and short-lived Kaarta Kingdom.

                                         Young girls from Bambara tribe, Mali. Lourdes SB

Bambara people speak Bambara, also known as Bamana, and Bamanankan. It is a mande language that belong to the larger Niger-Congo family.
This language spoken in Mali, and to a lesser extent Burkina Faso and Senegal, by as many as six million people (including second language users). The Bambara language is the language of people of the Bambara ethnic group, numbering about 4,000,000 people, but serves also as a lingua franca in Mali (it is estimated that about 80 percent of the population speak it as a first or second language). It is a Subject–object–verb language and has two tones

                                        Bambara man, Mali

It uses seven vowels a, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ and u (the letters approximate their IPA equivalents). Writing was introduced during the French occupation and literacy is limited, especially in rural areas. Although written literature is only slowly evolving (due to the predominance of French as the "language of the educated"), there exists a wealth of oral literature, which is often tales of kings and heroes. This oral literature is mainly tradited by the "Griots" (Jɛliw in Bambara) who are a mixture of storytellers, praise singers and human history books who have studied the trade of singing and reciting for many years. Many of their songs are very old and are said to date back to the old kingdom of Mali.
The main sub-dialect is standard Bamara, which has significant influence from Western Maninkakan. Bambara has many local dialects. Some dialect variants: Somono, Segou, San, Beledugu, Ganadugu, Wasulu and Sikasso.
Since the 1970s Bambara has mostly been written in the Latin script, using some additional phonetic characters. The vowels are a, e, ɛ (formerly è), i, o, ɔ (formerly ò), u; accents can be used to indicate tonality. The former digraph ny is now written ɲ or ñ (Senegal). The ambiguous digraph "ng" represented both the [ŋɡ] sound of English "finger" and the [ŋ] sound of "singer". The 1966 Bamako spelling conventions render the latter sound as "ŋ".
The N'Ko (ߒߞߏ) alphabet is a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949 as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa; N’Ko means 'I say' in all Manding languages. Kante created N’Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a "cultureless people" since prior to this time there had been no indigenous African writing system for his language. N'ko came first into use in Kankan, Guinea as a Maninka alphabet and disseminated from there into other Manding-speaking parts of West Africa. N'ko and the Arabic script are still in use for Bambara, although the Latin script is much more common.

                                      Beautiful Bambara woman, Mali. foto_morgana
Bambara belongs to a group of closely related languages called Manding (related to Mandinka, Mande language group). It is an SOV language and has two (mid/standard and high) tones; e.g. sa 'death' vs. sá 'snake.' The typical argument structure of the language consists of a subject, followed by an aspectival auxiliary, followed by the direct object, and finally a transitive verb. Naturally, if the verb is intransitive, the direct object is not found.

                                               Bambara girl

Bambara does not inflect for gender. Gender for a noun can be specified by adding a suffix, -ce or -ke for male and -muso for female. The plural is formed by attaching -w to words.
Bambara uses postpositions in much the same manner as languages like English and French use prepositions. These postpositions are found after the verb and are used to express direction, location, and in some cases, possession.

                 Bambara woman clearing rubbish in the village of Kalabougou, near Ségou in Mali
Loan words
In urban areas, many Bambara conjunctions have been replaced in everyday use by French borrowings that often mark code-switches. The Bamako dialect makes use of sentences like: N taara Kita mais il n'y avait personne là-bas. : I went to Kita [Bambara] but there was no one there [French]. The sentence in Bambara alone would be N taara Kita nka mɔgɔsi tuntɛ yen. The French proposition "est-ce que" is also used in Bambara; however, it is pronounced more slowly and as three syllables, [ɛsəkə].
Bambara uses many French loan words. For example, some people might say: I ka kulosi ye jauni ye: "Your skirt is yellow" (using a derivation of the French word for yellow, jaune.)
However, one could also say: I ka kulosi ye neremuguman ye, also meaning "your skirt is yellow." The original Bambara word for yellow comes from "neremugu," mugu being flour made from Néré, a seed from a long seed pod. Neremugu is often used in sauces in Southern Mali.

                                         Bambara woman, Bani village,Mali

Most French loan words are suffixed with the sound 'i'; this is particularly common when using French words which have a meaning not traditionally found in Mali. For example, the Bambara word for snow is niegei, based on the French word for snow neige. As there has never been snow in Mali, there has not been a traditional meaning for the word and thus no unique word in Bambara to describe it.
N bɛ bamanankan mɛn dɔɔni-dɔɔni
I understand/hear a little bit of Bambara (lit: I aux positive Bambara hear small-small)
I tɛna dumuni ke wa?
Aren't you going to eat? (lit: you aux negative future eating do question particle)
Du Mara be ameriki hali bi wa?
Is Dou Mara still living in the USA? (lit: Dou Mara still America in live question particle)
Macire nana MALI la wa ? (did Macire come to Mali?)

                                        Beautiful Bambara girl, Segou, Mali. angel Alvarez Villalba
Music using Bambara language
Malian artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Rokia Traoré, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Habib Koité, and the blind couple Amadou & Mariam often sing in Bambara. Aïda of the band Métisse often sings in Dioula, as does Mory Kante, born in Guinea to a Malian mother; his most famous song to date is "Yeke Yeke" (Alpha Blondy). Lyrics in Bambara occur on Stevie Wonder's soundtrack Journey through the Secret Life of Plants. Tiken Jah Fakoly (reggae) often sings in Dioula and French.
Additionally, in 2010, Spanish rock group Dover released their 7th studio album I Ka Kené with the majority of lyrics in the language.
Bambara woman in veil

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 subsumed by the Sahara in southern Mauritania), where urban centers began to emerge by as early as 2500 BC. By 250 BC a Mandé subgroup, the Bozo, founded the city of Djenne. Between 300 AD and 1100 AD the Soninke Mandé dominated the Western Sudan, leading the Ghana Empire.

Bamana woman with traditional hairstyle, Bin village, Mali. Circa 1959. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon.

When the Mandé Songhai Empire dissolved after 1600 AD, 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.
While there is little consensus among modern historians and ethnologists as to the origins or meaning of the ethno-linguistic term, references to Bambara can be found from the early 18th century. In addition to its general use as a reference to an ethno-linguistic group, Bambara was also used to identify captive Africans who originated in the interior of Africa perhaps from the upper Senegal-Niger region and transported to the Americas via ports on the Senegambian coast. As early as 1730 at the slave-trading post of Gorée, the term Bambara referred simply to slaves who were already in the service of the local elites or French.[

                                          Bambara woman, Mali. georges courreges

The Bamana Empire (also Bambara Empire or Ségou Empire) was a large West African state based at Ségou, now in Mali. It was ruled by the Kulubali or Coulibaly dynasty established circa 1640 by Kaladian Coulibaly also known as Fa Sine or Biton-si-u. The empire existed as a centralized state from 1712 to the 1861 invasion of Toucouleur conqueror El Hadj Umar Tall.
Bambara Man, 1853
P.-D. Boilat, Esquisses Sénégalaises.
P. Bertrand. Paris, 1853.
New York Public Library, Hathi Trust.

The Kulubali Dynasty
In around 1640, Fa Sine became the third Faama (Mande word for King) of a small kingdom of Bambara people in the city of Ségou in Mali. Though he made many successful conquests of neighboring tribes and kingdoms, he failed to set up a significant administrative framework, and the new kingdom disintegrated following his death (c. 1660).
Bambara Woman, 1853
P.-D. Boilat, Esquisses Sénégalaises.
P. Bertrand. Paris, 1853.
New York Public Library, Hathi Trust.

In the early 18th century, Mamari Kulubali (sometimes cited as Mamari Bitòn) settled in Ségou and joined an egalitarian youth organization known as a tòn. Mamari soon reorganized the tòn as a personal army, assumed the title of bitòn, and set about subduing rival chiefs. He established control over Ségou, making it the capital of a new Bambara Empire.
Fortifying the capital with Songhai techniques, Bitòn Kulubali built an army of several thousand men and a navy of war canoes to patrol the Niger. He then proceeded to launch successful assaults against his neighbors, the Fulani, the Soninke, and the Mossi. He also attacked Tomboctou, though he held the city only briefly. During this time he founded the city of Bla as an outpost and armory.
File:Tombe Biton Coulibaly.jpg
        Grave of Biton Mamary Coulibaly (1712-1755), near Segou, Mali.

Mamari Kulubali was the last ruler to be called Bitòn. All future rulers were simply titled Faama. Bakari, the first Faama after Mamari reigned from (1710–1711). Faama De-Koro ascended in 1712 reigning until 1736. The kingdom had three more faamas with unstable 4-year reigns until falling into anarchy in 1748.

                                Bambara woman with facial tribal marks, Mali. Davide Comelli
The Ngolosi
In 1750, a freed slave named Ngolo Diarra seized the throne and re-established stability, reigning for nearly forty years of relative prosperity. The Ngolosi, his descendants, would continue to rule the Empire until its fall. Ngolo's son Mansong Diarra took the throne following his father's 1795 death and began a series of successful conquests, including that of Tomboctou (c. 1800) and the Massina region.
Economy and structure
The Bambara Empire was structured around traditional Bambara institutions, including the kòmò, a body to resolve theological concerns. The kòmò often consulted religious sculptures in their decisions, particularly the four state boliw, large altars designed to aid the acquisition of political power.

Bambara Boys taking cattle through village, Bougouni village, Mali. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970.

The economy of the Bambara Empire flourished through trade, especially that of the slaves captured in their many wars. The demand for slaves then led to further fighting, leaving the Bambara in a perpetual state of war with their neighbors.
Mungo Park, passing through the Bambara capital of Ségou two years after Diarra's 1795 death, recorded a testament to the Empire's prosperity:
The view of this extensive city, the numerous canoes on the river, the crowded population, and the cultivated state of the surrounding countryside, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence that I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa.

                                         Bambara people
Jihad and fall
At the Battle of Noukouma in 1818, Bambara forces met and were defeated by Fula Muslim fighters rallied by the jihad of Cheikou Amadu (or Seku Amadu) of Massina. The Bambara Empire survived but was irreversibly weakened. Seku Amadu's forces decisively defeated the Bambara, taking Djenné and much of the territory around Mopti and forming into a Massina Empire. Timbuktu would fall as well in 1845.
The real end of the empire, however, came at the hands of El Hadj Umar Tall, a Toucouleur conqueror who swept across West Africa from Dinguiraye. Umar Tall's mujahideen readily defeated the Bambara, seizing Ségou itself on March 10, 1861, and declaring an end to the Bambara Empire (which effectively became part of the Toucouleur Empire).
                                                        Bambara woman cooking
Short-lived Kaarta Kingdom
Kaarta, or Ka'arta, was a short-lived Bambara kingdom in what is today the western half of Mali.
As Bitòn Coulibaly tightened his control over Ségou, capital of his newly-founded Bambara Empire, a faction of Ségou Bambara dissatisfied with his rule fled west. In 1753, they founded the kingdom of Kaarta on the homeland of the long-defunct Ghana Empire, taking Nioro du Sahel as their capital. The kingdom was destroyed as an independent force in 1854 by El Hadj Umar Tall's jihad across West Africa; Umar Tall seized Nioro, and put the Kaarta king (Fama) Mamady Kandian and his entire family to death.

                                                         Smiling Bambara girl, Mali

In 1878 the French governor of Senegal Briere de l'Isle sent a French force against the Kaarta Toucouleur vassal state along the north bank of the Senegal River. Blocked by the colonial minister in Paris, he argued that they were a threat to the Senegalese Imamate of Futa Toro (then a French client state) with which the British were poised to interfere. The Ministry gave in and on 7 July 1878, a French force destroyed the Kaarta Toucouleur fort at Sabouciré, killing their leader, Almany Niamody. This portion of the Kaarta vassals were then incorporated into the Khasso Wolof protectorate kingdom.
French Colonel Louis Archinard later conquered the entire territory of the former Kaarta kingdom in 1890, which was formally annexed into French West Africa in 1904.

                                                                     Bambara headdress. Circa 1891

Effects of Colonialism and the World System
French imperial expanders colonized the Bambara society for the purposes of dominating agricultural lands and commercial routes through the Middle Niger. These colonizing powers effected the Bambara populations culturally and politically. The French intended to rule the Bambara people rigidly, taking over their “chief” positions. Along with their centralized ideals, the French attempted to establish a colonial administration that was centered in Paris. However, this inflexible system proved to be inefficient and ineffective; as a result, the colonies could no longer be viewed as a homogeneous empire, but rather as separate entities ruled with somewhat unrelated administrations (Djata).

Conde Tiemoko, a Bamana nurse, wearing a straw necklace, Mali. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959.

One of the most important aspects of French colonialism that permitted their occupation was the establishment of provincial chiefs and village leaders. The French colonizers manipulatively tried to choose Africans that were devoted to the French cause; African authorities were a necessary aspect of their administration. The French administration attempted to renew or alter the Bambara culture, but the local African Bambara were very set in their ways, incorporative in most instances, though hardly violent. Certain aspects of Bambara political economy survived under French administration, such as a tax system. However, once the French were in occupation, taxes rose and money was allocated towards colonial funds, and no longer domestic.
The French also attempted to colonize the Bambara region of Mali by implementing educational systems in order to develop French influence and to propagate the French language. However, oftentimes Bambara refused to attend French-established schools; the Bambara were not easily influenced by French impositions (Djata 154-155). Another way that the Bambara culture was infringed upon was the attempts by missionaries to convert the Bambara religious advocated away from their religion and towards Islam. However, this was a extensive and difficult process that the Bambara resisted heavily. Ultimately, the Bambara created a state where their religious beliefs remained independent from administration. Bambara social and religious conditions were an important aspect of community (Djata 156-157).

One of the more influential changes that French colonialism made on Bambara society was through military. Colonizers hired Bambara soldier for their skills, and the soldiers were ultimately highly regarded as worthy fighters. Although these soldiers had no allegiance to the French cause, they played a large and successful role in the colonial army. The prestige of the Bambara solider was significantly diminished after colonizers implemented a draft. The military pay was subpar to the invested value in keeping sons at home for the agricultural field. As a result, a trend towards “stabilization of the familiy” was established and continued to grow. Recruitment was effectively viewed as yet another tax (Djata 160-171).
Bambara responses to colonialism included “resignation, resistance, and collaboration,” (Djata), a combination of various degrees of unsettlement. Opposition was prevalent, most of which stemmed from the taxes and censuses that the French colonizers implemented on the Bambara, which the Bambara interpreted as acts of intrusion. Bambara also resisted by choosing leaders that French administrators opposed, as well as holding campaigns against the colonizing forces.

                               Bambara woman, Segou, Mali. Rafael Gómez

“The Bamana could be identified in pre-colonial times in terms of language, religion, customs, historic traditions, and space. Each of these elements helped to create a cohesion despite migrations and the introduction of other populations. Person argues that Bamana identity has survived despite colonialism, not because of it, since the French wanted to replace their culture and their identity with French civilization. Nevertheless, their community value continued to be vibrant” (Djata 183).

                                    Bambara man. Andrea Oleandri

The Bambara are traditionally subsistence farmers. Millet is their main crop. Their next largest crops are sorghum and groundnuts. These three crops are their main agricultural outputs. In private gardens maize, cassava, tobacco, and many other vegetables are grown.

                              Bambara fruit and Vegetables Market, Segou, Mali

 The Bambara also hunt animals such as boar, ostrich, guinea fowl, and antelope for meat and skins as well as collect honey from wild bees. However, this is not their only source of meat and skins. To help with the farming the Bambara own cattle, goats, horses, sheep, and chickens. Although the herding of these animals is actually tended to by a neighboring culture called the Fulani in exchange for millet, sorghum, and groundnuts.
The Bambara also earn income by selling various types of art. This includes pottery, weaving, leather work, sculpture, and masks. However, they are most known for their sculptures and elaborate masks. Each mask represents a different point in the initiation and education of the men. Men are trained in their respective crafts as apprentices for at least eight years before being allowed to sell their wares in urban centers for profit.

Sexual division of production:
 “Among the Bamana, women, in addition to taking care of many household chores, work most of
their lives in the collective fields of their husband's extended family. Once women reach menopause they retire from work in the collective fields and often redirect their efforts in the cultivation of their own fields.

Women are also very active in trade activities. Postmenopausal women, as in many other parts in Africa, are freer to engage more extensively in trade activities than are women of childbearing [sic] age.

However, women sell mainly food items, both raw and processed, and a few manufactured goods (e.g. cloth), while men engage more often in the sale of manufactured goods. In other words, women's access to market participation tends to be limited to a series of economic activities which are scarcely lucrative, or at least less so if compared to the business in which men engage.”
Bambara woman coming from Market, Segou, Mali

Land tenure:
 “Prior to colonization, land was not a commodity. Among the Bamana agriculturists, access to the land (that is, the right to cultivate a piece of land, not individual ownership) was often mediated by the so-called "land chief" who [sic] was often a respected elder from the first family to settle in the area.
The land chief was in charge of distributing the land among the various lineages of the village. He was also responsible for the celebration of various sacrifices, in particular to the shrine of the spirits in charge of protecting the village, the so-called dasiri (a cluster of trees and shrubs). Lineage members would collectively cultivate the land and the lineage chief would be in charge of the redistribution of resources among individual households according to their perceived needs.

                          Bambara woman, Mali.

However, conflicts among households of the same lineage would periodically erupt and often lead to further fissions within the lineage. Besides collective farming, individuals of both genders could cultivate smaller fields on the side and independently manage their revenues. The colonial conquest has greatly complicated the issue of property. At the present, local systems for the allocation of property, Islamic law, and colonially derived property rules (mostly affecting parcels in urban areas) coexist, but not without conflict, side by side.
Bambara woman with traditional hairstyle

Social 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 Tons into a warrior caste. As conquests of their neighbors were successful, the state created the Jonton (Jon = slave/kjell-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.
Bambara woman with her child

Traditionally, Mandé society is hierarchical or caste-based, with nobility and vassals. Bamana political order created a small free nobility (horon), 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.

                                                       Bamana griot

In addition to this, the Bamana maintained internal castes, like other Mandé peoples "nyamakala" (workers), 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.
Bambara girl

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 (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.
The last level is the nyamakala or workers, who often were in occupations such as carpenters, blacksmiths, pottery makers, etc. Since 1960, however, this social system has been almost eliminated, as a Mali law prohibited limited access to water and land, opening these resources to everyone. To implement this law, however, the local officials often fall short as traditions are deeply rooted and the reputations of each remain consistent.

Family Structure, Kinship and Marriage
Family Structure:
The Bambara people trace their heritage through patilineal decent. Patrilocal extended families act as the political structure in Bambara culture. These extended family groups can comprise between 100-1000 members. Young men’s position in their initiation groups plays a significant role in their position within the village in the future.

                               Bambara children in a Village,Mali.

For the most part, each extended family group makes up its own village. These villages consist of many different households, or gwa. Members of each household work collectively to provide for everyone who lives there. Homes within the village are usually bigger than those in other African societies, often comprising of up to 60 or more family members.

Each village or extended family is known by its symbol, usually an animal. There is a great deal of loyalty among villages of the Bambara. The eldest male in the family is respected as the village chief. When a chief passes away, that authority is passed down to the oldest living male.

Kinship Terminology:
The kinship terminology used by the Bambara is indicative of their patrilocal society. Bambara use different words to classify their parallel and cross cousins.

                                 Bambara woman

The same word used for siblings also applies to paternal cousins, but not for cousins on the maternal side. Similarly, people call their nieces and nephews on the paternal side “child,” however they do not refer to their maternal nieces and nephews in this way.
Bambara man

Marriage Customs:
Bambara females are usually engaged between ages of four and ten. It is very unusual for girls between the ages of twelve to sixteen to still be unsure of who they are going to marry. Rather than focusing on looks, Bambara males look for hard-working women, who cook well and are productive.

High marriage costs are viewed as an investment. Marriage is a means for having children, which in turn will increase the work force and reinforce the family name. Bambara women have an average of eight children during their lifetime. The majority of women (including the elderly) are married, as a man’s status increases by having a wife.

The male “household head” finds suitable partners and arranges the marriages for all the males within the household. This includes paying the bride-price as well as arranging the wedding. Bambara culture does not permit people to marry within their own lineage. Although Bambara is patrilocal, women do keep their original lineage name after they marry. Polygamy is common among the Bambara. Additionally, it is very rare for widowed women to remain alone. After their husband passes away, she is usually inherited by another male close in the family to her husband.

Gender and Sexual Orientation
In Bambara society, women are seen just usually wear a rag or loincloth around their hips, with their breasts exposed. This constant exposure, the Bambara believe, desensitize men from desiring women, as they are always around nearly naked women.

Also, women are used to being seen as objects to men, being often harassed and bossed around by men. Men are often seen chatting about topics such as sex and other vile topics that are considered taboo for women to discuss. Men further separate women by at one point in the night, isolating all young girls to a communal living space, where an older women watches over them to make sure no boys are coming for them for companionship during the night.

Men and women also have secret societies, broken up by gender. Each society for women is organized by age as well as how far they are in their initiation process. Males, on the other hand, have brotherhoods. Both of these type of groups are completely off limits to non-members and cannot be entered by the other gender.
At birth, the baby is washed with millet beer. The patriarch of the clan (the oldest living male member) shakes the beer on the baby’s head 3 or 4 times to purify the child of the spirit of death. In the Bambara culture, there is a demand for circumcision with both sexes. Because of its close ties to Mohammed, it is considered a rite of passage where it embodies both civil and religious duties. The actual act of circumcision follows a very strict practice, incorporating four festivals into one religious passage. On the second day of celebrations, those who will be circumcised are deemed the soli and need to offer to the higher members of society called the to-n-déou. In order to do so, they must complete soli kili basi, which requires them to sing and beg at each home within the community.

The night prior to the circumcision (d’lo), the two genders are separated into their own groups for each sex. The candidates are covered with white, yellow, and red paint on their foreheads and are covered by blankets. Boys are shaved and greased, and girls hair are done in a neat manner, with the girls wearing loincloths provided by their husbands-to-be that they have to wear, with colors corresponding to their tribe and level in society.  At circumcision of women, the village potter, and the village blacksmith’s wife, in front of her parents, circumcise girls age fifteen. In Bamana culture, the clitoris represents the male aspect of the woman, and the foreskin represents the female of the man. The blood is collected and given to her fiancé, who then offers it to his ancestors. For male circumcision, the boy is led to the center of the village where he is circumcised by the fa of his clan. After this, he is considered fertile, and can be married.
Once the soli are circumcised and healed, they have another ceremony of the boloko déou don bo to conclude the event. This ceremony is important in showing how in some aspects of Bambara life, there is some similarities between sexes, however, men still dominate the Bambara culture.

                                                  Bambara people
Bambara Initiation Societies
The jo society has become a sort of framework for other initiation society. Until a few decades ago, initiation was obligatory for every young man. Jo initiations take place every seven years, after candidates receive six years of special training.

 During this time, the young men go through a ritual death and live one week in the bush before returning to the village. There they publicly perform the dances and songs they have learned in the bush, and receive small presents from spectators. After a ritual bath that signals the end of their animal life, the new initiates become “Jo children.”

Masked performer and balaphon players at Tiebleke dance, Bin village, Mali,Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959.

Initially the ntomo was a society for uncircumcised boys. Today it closely resembles various Western associations in its bureaucratic structure and its administrative and membership fees. There are two main style groups of their masks
Bamana N'tomo Horned Mask with Figure on Top. Mali

. One is characterized by an oval face with four to ten horns in a row on top like a comb, often covered with cowries or dried red berries. The other type has a ridged nose, a protruding mouth, a superstructure of vertical horns, in the middle of which or in front of which is a standing figure or an animal. The ntomo masks with thin mouths underscore the virtue of silence and the importance of controlling one’s speech. During their time in ntomo the boys learn to accept discipline. They do not yet have access to the secret knowledge related to korè and other initiation societies.
Bambara Kore Hyena mask

The korè society is perceived by the Bambara people as the “father of the rain and thunder.” Every seven years a new age-set of teenagers experiences a symbolic death and rebirth into the korè society through initiation rituals whose symbols relate to fire and masculinity. Initiations take place in the sacred wood, where the youths are harassed by elders and the clown-like performers called korédugaw. In their general form and detail, a group of korè masks conveys concepts such as knowledge, courage, and energy through the representation of hyenas, lions, monkeys, antelopes, and horses. In addition there are masks of the nama, which protect against sorcerers.
Bamana Marka Mask Kore Society Mali 

The komo is the custodian of tradition and is concerned with all aspects of community life -- agriculture, judicial processes, and passage rites. Its masks are of elongated animal form decorated with actual horns of antelope, quills of porcupine, bird skulls, and other objects. Their headdress, worn horizontally, consists of an animal, covered with mud, with open jaw; often horns and feathers are attached.
Mask - Kore / Komo / Kono (Bamana) people, Burkina Faso and Mali

Masks of the kono, which enforces civic morality, are also elongated and encrusted with sacrificial material. The kono masks were also used in agricultural rituals, mostly to petition for a good harvest. They usually represent an animal head with long open snout and long ears standing in a V from the head, often covered with mud. In contrast to komo masks, which are covered with feathers, horns and teeth, those of the kono society are elegant and simple.
Komo mask

Komo society mask, used in the second of the successive initiations that include masked dancers and sacrifices presented at the society’s altars. The purpose of Komo initiation is to commence the spirit of knowledge; to reveal to the Bamana boys self-knowledge and the advancement of personal qualities. The Bamana refer to the masks as komo kun, meaning “head of the Komo,” however more specific and individual names are also given to differentiate their special abilities. Common characteristics found in the majority of Komo masks include bird feathers and quills, porcupine quills, antelope horns, and mouths shaped similarly to those of a hyena. The hyena jaws give emphasis to the animal’s power and force, seen as symbol of knowledge. The masked dancers wear the Komo masks on the top of their heads, instead of in front of the face, and express their power through exhaling columns of embers or phosphorescent material. Other supernatural rituals are also practiced during the initiation with the goal to nurture balance in the community. 

The tji wara society members use a headdress representing, in the form of an antelope, the mythical being who taught men how to farm. The word tji means “work” and wara means “animal,” thus “working animal.” There are antelopes with vertical or horizontal direction of the horns. In the past the purpose of the tji wara association was to encourage cooperation among all members of the community to ensure a successful crop. In recent time, however, the Bambara concept of tji wara has become associated with the notion of good farmer, and the tji wara masqueraders are regarded as a farming beast. The Bambara sponsor farming contests where the tji wara masqueraders perform. Always performing together in a male and female pair, the coupling of the antelope masqueraders speaks of fertility and agricultural abundance.
Bamana tji wara mask, Mali

According to one interpretation, the male antelope represents the sun and the female the earth. The antelope imagery of the carved headdress was inspired by a Bambara myth that recounts the story of a mythical beast (half antelope and half human) who introduced agriculture to the Bambara people. The dance performed by the masqueraders mimes the movements of the antelope.
Bamana Chiwara Antelope Headdress with Hat and custom stand TjiWara, Mali

Antelope headdress in the vertical style, found in eastern Bambara territory, have a pair of upright horns. The male antelopes are decorated with a mane consisting of rows of openwork zigzag patterns and gracefully curved horns, while the female antelope supports baby antelopes on their back and have straight horns. The dancers appeared holding two sticks in their hands, their leaps imitating the jumps of the antelopes. From the artistic point of view the tji wara are probably the finest examples of stylized African art, for with a delicate play of line the sensitive carvings display the natural beauty of the living antelope.        

In traditional African societies, a childless marriage is a grave problem. Further, childlessness seems to be the wife’s problem to resolve. Women with fertility and childbearing problems in Bambara society affiliate with gwan, an association that is especially concerned with such problems. Women who avail themselves of its ministrations and who succeed in bearing children make extra sacrifices to gwan, dedicate their children to it, and name them after the sculptures associated with the association. Gwan sculptures occur in groups and are normally enshrined. An ensemble includes a mother-and-child figure, the father, and several other male and female figures. They are considered to be extremely beautiful. They illustrate ideals of physical beauty and ideals of character and action. The figures are brought out of the shrine to appear in annual public ceremonies. At such times, the figures are washed and oiled and then dressed in loincloths, head ties, and beads, all of which are contributed by the women of the village. The size of the statues may vary from 12 inches to 4 feet. The figures are usually with a dignified air. Some have the arms separated from the body, flat palms facing forward, the hands sometimes attached to the thighs. They may have crest-like hairdos with several braids falling on their breasts. In the same style, representations of musicians and of lance-carrying warriors are found. There are also carvings with Janus head. Ancestor figures of the Bambara clearly derive from the same artistic tradition, as do many of those of the Dogon. Rectangular intersection of flat planes is a stylistic feature common to Bambara and Dogon sculpture.

The Bambara high god is conceived of as a grain from which three other divine "persons," and finally, the whole of creation, are born. Bambara theology and religion are complex. Deep religious speculations exist among the Bambara sages and are transmitted orally without codification.
The Bambara believe in one god, Bemba, or Ngala, who is the creator of all things and has, in a way, created himself as a quaternity. This quaternity consists of Bemba himself, Mousso Koroni Koundyé (or Nyale), Faro, and Ndomadyiri; the last three correspond to the four elements—air, fire, water, and earth. Before the creation Bemba was named Koni and was, in a sense, "thought" (miri ) dwelling in a void; he is also the "void" itself (lankolo ). Accordingly, he cannot be perceived by humans using their usual senses. His existence is manifested as a force: a whirlwind, thought, or vibration that contains the signs of all uncreated things.
Bemba realized the creation of the world in three stages, each corresponding to one of the three other divine beings. In the first stage, called dali folo ("creation of the beginning"), the naked earth is created. God is known as Pemba in this stage, and he manifests himself in the form of a grain, from which grows an acacia (Balanza ). This tree soon withers, falls to the ground, and decays.
Bambara woman singing hymn in the dark,Mali

For the funeral, the dead body has its head shaved and it has its outside whitewashed with a paste made of cowries and water. Seven days later, a feast is held in the persons honor. The clan mourns for forty days, at which time, the corpse is considered an ancestor.

Art hold special place in Bambara culture. To them every piece of art holds a significance in either a religious, societal, or technical way. Despite an early tradition of bronze and terracotta working in the neighbourhood, their creative art today is predominantly in wood.
Wood carvers belong to the caste of the blacksmiths. They make tools for agriculture as well as ritual objects. They enjoy a special position in the community, and do not intermarry with the rest of the tribe.

Bamana religious life and social structure is traditionally based upon fraternal groups or societies which regulate agricultural work, judge disputes and provide protection against evil spirits and sickness. They each have their own initiation rites
and rituals, usually relating to some aspect of fertility. Bamana craftsmen fashion masks and figures for the observance of these societies' rituals.

There are at least five principle societies in Bamana culture. Each has its own type of mask, the style and symbolism of which would be understood by initiates. Characteristic of Bamana masks is a combination of human faces, animal horns and bird feathers, covered with a coating of riverine mud and thus fusing the elements of water, air and earth. The Bamana are well known for their antelope masks which represent the fabulous being, half man half animal, who taught them how to cultivate the earth.
Bamana Seated Male  Holding Staff/Spear Africa
Bamana Seated Male Figure Holding Staff/Spear Africa
Seated male figure with staff in each hand. This figure is a work of the Bamana people.  The existence of standing male figures among the Bamana is well-documented, Those that are known are linked to annual ceremonies of the ""Guan"" Society, and they are quite rare. This seated personage is known as a Jomooni or Gwandusu among the Bamana, an important visual component of the Jo initiation society for young boys (and girls) called masiriw literally the visual ornaments of Jow.
 Located primarily among the southern Bamana, Jo initiation takes place over a span of years in which the young initiates undergo training and instructions leading to their admission to society as adults instructed in the secrets of Bamana religion and philosophy. This male figure holds weapons in hands and wears a carved hat  with protective amulets or charms and animal horns compared to the real hat worn by digintaries among the Bamana. The long standing presence of Islam among the Bamana is reflected in the magical and protective amulets that in many instances contain a verse from the Koran that adorn the hat blending Bamana local animist religion and Islam.

Chi Wara
The Bambara attributed their success to the lessons learned from a half-human, half-animal deity called chi wara, "working wild animal." Chi wara (or tsi wara), with his hooves and his mother's pointed stick, tilled the soil and turned wild grasses into grain. But because the people wasted the grain, chi wara returned to the earth. The farmers then created art and dance to recall him and his powers over nature.
Bamana masqueraders with chi wara headdress
Bamako region, Mali
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1971
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA EENG VIII-58, 1A)
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

These headdresses feature the antelope, giving visual form to important religious beliefs about fertility and growth. They were worn in dances at the beginning of the rainy season (or when a fallow field was re-seeded) to assure a good harvest.
Male Chi Wara headdress, Bamana Culture, from Mali (wood, metal & accumulated material)
Credit: Male Chi Wara headdress, Bamana Culture, from Mali (wood, metal & accumulated material), Malian / Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA / Gift of the Adolph and Esther D. Gottlieb Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library

 Dancers who wore these headdresses covered their bodies with long grasses and cloth. They went bent over using two canes, believing that if they stood upright, they would offend the deity. The dancers accompanied farmers to the fields, supervised the planting, and then returned to the village where they danced. The dance consisted of jumps, sudden leaps and turns reminiscent of the actions of the antelope.

Three different styles of chi wara headdresses have been associated with distinct geographic areas within Mali. The first is a vertical style in which the body and legs of the male antelope are small, but the mane, nuzzle and horns are elongated and elaborated. Its open work mane with a zigzag pattern is said to represent the course of the sun across the sky during the agricultural year.

 The female antelope in contrast is depicted simply as carrying a young on its back. This vertical style is typically found in the eastern parts of Mali (Segou region). The second is a horizontal representation of the antelope, generally more accurately showing the proportions of the animal. These are found in the northwest (Bamako region). The third type, from the southwest (Bougouni region), is highly abstract, generally smaller and included forms primarily of the antelope, but also of the aardvark and the pangolin (scaly anteater)

                                 Bamana artist carving a chi wara headdress
                                                                Bamako region, Mali
                                                          Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1971
                                                Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA EECL 6751)
                                                National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

The puppets play a role in all sorts of rituals from the ceremonies of Mali's secret societies to those that take place in the village every year to ask the gods for good rains.

Music is a privileged art among the Bambara. It is often used in religious ceremonies as well as in divinations and medicinal practice. Music is either sung or made by instruments of their own making. 
Bambara folkloric musician

The chief instrument is the drum, also called the tabale. It was reserved for kings and chiefs and created from metal, often copper. The drums themselves were pieces of art, each being delicately crafted and stylized. They would contain engravings in the frame of the drum. The drumstick used to play the drum would also be adorned with bells. 
A second commonly used instrument was a guitar or ngoni. These guitars would have rectangular frames and eight strings. At the end of the handle there would be bells attached, just like on the drums, holding religious significance. Harps were often used in a variety of ceremonies including sacrifices, cathartic and medical rites, purifications, aprotropaic rites and solitary meditations.
Bambara Female dancers accompanyed by musicians, Bamako, Mali,Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959.

Bambara woman with lip tattoo holding a baby

Portrait of Bambara man

Bambara dance Troupe from Bamako,Mali