The Uniqueness of the Malian Culture

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The Mali Empire was established in 1235CE and is located in Western Africa along the Niger River (Nelson, 2019). Although the Mali Empire collapsed in the 1600s, the Malian culture still continues to live on today. It is known for its abundance in gold and salt mines (Nelson, 2019). It is also the second largest producer of cotton in Africa (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Mali proves to be one of the poorest countries today (, n.d.), but values collectivism as part of the culture. The unique Malian culture is made up of wonderful history, and the people of the culture put major emphasis on marriage, art, and religion, while adhering to their specific male and female gender roles.

The Mali Empire arose along with several Malinke kingdoms of Ghana under the rule of Sumanguru Kante (South African History Online, 2019). Sumanguru Kante won a series of battles to gain his reign, but was eventually overthrown by King Sundiata and the Malinke resistance (Ancient Civilizations, n.d.). King Sundiata (also spelled Sunjata) is believed by many historians to have founded the Mali Empire in 1235CE after defeating King Sumanguru Kante and the Malinke kingdoms (South African History Online, 2019). Mansa Musa was said to be one of the most famous emperors of the Mali Empire. Mansa Musa introduced the Islamic religion to the Mali Empire and made it one of the first Muslim states in northern Africa (Ancient Civilizations, n.d.). Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage and came back with riches of gold and slaves (, n.d.). He built buildings in Timbuktu that are some of Africa’s largest learning centers to this day (Ancient Civilizations, n.d.). The empire fell in the 1600s, but the Mali culture still continues to live on today. The Mali states were under French colonization until they achieved independence in 1960 (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). As time has gone on, the cultures of Mali have been seen as more collectivist cultures, with minimal representation of these cultures within the U.S.

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The cultures that make up the Mali Empire are seen as collectivist cultures focusing on the needs of the democracy as a whole opposed to individuality. “Mali is [now] a democratic republic” after the transition of a one-party state (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). There are both governmental and non-governmental organizations that seek to provide benefits for the people of Mali. Government organizations, such as social welfare, provide different benefits where “workers are entitled to retirement benefits, health care, sick leave, maternity leave, and other forms of compensation” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Nongovernmental organization take the needs of the local people into account by including “literacy programs, health training programs, initiatives to alleviate rural women’s work burdens, reforestation programs, and initiatives to support the decentralization of state institutions” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). The Malian culture does not have a wide range of representation in the United States, but the U.S. exchanges in trading practices with them. There have been different festivals, like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2003, that have been Malian culture themed. These festivals are decorated by the different aspects of the Malian culture such as music and art (Smithsonian Folklife Festival, n.d.). The Malian people have different values that seem to make up the different components of this Malian culture.

The Malian culture tends to put major value into marriage, art (such as music and dancing), and etiquette. Marriage is highly valued in the Malian culture and marks an initiation from childhood to adulthood. It is the “most important ritual of the life cycle and entails numerous celebrations that are spread throughout a period of variable length, up to ten years” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). There are three different forms of marriage: traditional, civil, and religious (mostly Muslim) (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.).Polyamory is legal, and most marriages have the opportunity to pick between polyamory and monogamy (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Art is highly valued in the Malian culture with an emphasis on music, dancing, and the creation of wood carvings and masks. “Dogon dancers wear masks… to act out their conception of the world’s progress, and Bambara animal-spirit masqueraders do a fertility dance in which they imitate the movements of animals' (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). Certain groups “excel in the creation of wood carvings of masks, statues, stools, and objects used in traditional religions” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). Malians value their etiquetticy “very proud of their traditions of hospitality toward local and international visitors” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Greetings and salutations “symbolize an individual’s education and his or her concern and respect for others” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Gift-giving, sharing resources, and adhering to the dress code are also emphasized as part of their etiquetticy. Art, such as architecture, and religion are also highly valued in the Malian culture.

Art and religion are greatly emphasized and valued in the Malian culture. Specifically, art plays a major role in Malian life. Many Mali groups, such as the Bambara, “excel in the creation of wood carvings of masks, statues, stools, and objects used in traditional religions” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). Mali is well developed in its architecture, “with building materials consisting of mud bricks, stones, and a little wood” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.).

The cities of Dejenne and Timbuktu are cities with different buildings and mosques created for the significance of their culture and architectural heritage (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.). Religion, specifically national Islamic religious organizations, “play an important role in the life of the country” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). It is estimated the “80% of the Malian is Muslim, with others practicing Christianity (1%) or following traditional religious practices (19%) (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Celebrating the anniversary of the birth and baptism of Islamic Prophet Mohammed along with Christian holidays such as Easter or Christmas are religious events celebrated by the Malian people. They celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s birth during Ramadan in which they fast all month, and follow it with a “small feast” (selijinin) and a “big feast” (seliba) (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). During these small feasts, the Malian people usually sacrifice a sheep, dress in their best clothing, and exchange gifts and meat with one another. Although art and religion are highly valued in the Malian culture, the Malian people also put a great emphasis on sex and gender roles.

In general, “women are less represented than men in more lucrative sectors of the economy” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Women are less represented in state employment, private enterprises, and long-distance trade and struggle with issues such as women’s circumcision, women’s role in socialization, and their role in the education of children as well (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). There is a difference in the roles of women in rural areas versus urban cities. Rural women tend to have “a much heavier workload and reduced access to healthcare than city women” (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). Woman have different roles than men in terms of agriculture. Men tend to engage more in the selling of manufactured goods while women engage more in selling food items. Women take care of the household chores and work in the fields of their husband’s extended family (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). It does not matter if one is a man or a woman, all people have to adhere to certain standards in order to acculturate into the Malian culture.

In order to acculturate to the Malian culture, certain adaptations must be made in one’s daily life. Since Mali was controlled by the French for such a long period of time, the majority of the Malian culture speaks French, so one would have to learn the French language in order to communicate. Etiquetticy is highly valued from both the local people of the country and of the people who visit as well. One would have to adhere to their dress code. For example, one cannot wear shorts because it is deemed as disrespectful to show skin (Countries and their Cultures, n.d.). One needs to adapt to the Malian culture by adjusting to the agricultural and trade-like work life. Agriculture and trade are two of the major working industries of the Malian economy, and both men and women are involved with different roles (as stated above).

The Mali Empire was was originally established in 1235CE with its collapse following in the 1600s. Although the empire itself collapsed, the culture still remains among the Malian people today. Mali is located along the Niger River in West Africa and is known for its abundance in gold and cotton. The people of Mali are known for their wonderful art such as architecture, music, and dancing. Agricultural life is one of the major aspects of this culture, and both men and women have different roles in how they work in it. In order for one to acculturate to the Malian culture, they’d have to adhere to the rules of etiquetticy, which is highly valued in the Malian culture. Greetings to one another show a sign of respect and education, and one must adhere to the dress code to avoid showing disrespect to the culture.


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  7. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. (n.d.). Mali: From Timbuktu to Washington. Retrieved on Nov. 22, 2019 from
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