Adama Traoré author, director, actor and playwright, Professor at the National Institute of Arts , Balla Fasséké Kouyaté, is originally from Sikasso, in southern Mali.
Knight of the Arts and Letters of France and Knight of the National Order of Mali.
In 1994 he founded the Acte SEPT Cultural Association to promote African Malian and Francophone culture, to ensure training in the trades of the scene, arts and letters, and which since 1996 organizes the festival of the Théâtre des Réalités on Sikasso.
President of the Coalition Malienne pour la Diversité Culturelle.
President of FEDAMA, the Federation of Artists of Mali that is fighting for the recognition of the statute of artist and which currently groups together the guilds of theater, music, dance, cinema, literature, plastic arts, photography and is about to welcome puppets, fashion, design.
Professor Traoré accompanies us in discovering some aspects of Malian culture with respect to the puppet and its links with water, as well as introducing us to the most current aspects of the struggle that all Malian artists are called to carry out today for the defense and safeguard. of the arts and their freedom of expression, oppressed by the advance of jihadist forces.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP IS BETWEEN WATER, THE CULTURE OF MALI AND THE MARIONETTE THEATER?
To understand the culture in Mali, we must go back to the very idea of cosmogony, the character of Faaro who is the genius of water: there is a relationship with water as a purifying element.
In all libations there is the presence of water and there are two worlds at the same time: the visible world and the invisible world.
The visible world is divided between those who are on land and those who are in the liquid element, the river and the sea.
The puppet serves as an interrelation or representation of these different worlds.
In addition to this, the puppets that make representations along the banks of the river or on the water with the pirogues, are conceived starting
from aquatic plants that are recovered and used so that contact with water does not damage them.
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The Bozos are concentrated in what can be called the Ring of Niger.
This area experienced the first invasion at the time of Sékou Amadou's Diina, the king of the Peuls, a Muslim, theocratic, who banned the puppets when he arrived there.
As now, when a new invasion is underway,
The puppets, the Maanin, were in the image of human beings, and since Islam is an iconoclastic religion, they began to want to prohibit its representation.
But there was a resistance: people hid on the islands to do their puppet plays.
When the colonization came, the colonists told them: "You have to bring out your folklore!".
So they began to bring out the masks, but it was because they were afraid of the colonizer.
With the Republic of Mali and Independence, they were told that for the Independence celebrations they had to bring puppets to the provincial and regional capitals.
The young Bozos made masks specially for these events, and when they returned they threw them into the river, they didn't bring them back home, because these masks were not made for Muslim practices.
Faaro, genius of water, Bozo people, Mali.
Faaro is a Sogo Bo puppet that appears in the form of a mermaid with long flowing hair and a forked fish tail. Its short arms are reminiscent of a fish's side fins. She is dressed in an elaborate painted dress. The knob visible at the bottom of the puppet is a remnant of a rod that was used to support and activate this non-articulated figure. Collected in the village of Gometago near Segou, Mali in 2008. Ségou was the center of the Sogo Bo puppet tradition and the site of many Sogo Bo mask and puppet festivals until it was overrun by Islamic militants who destroyed many original puppets like this example. Exhibited at the SMA Fathers Museum of African Art Tenafly NJ 2009 and at the Free Library Gallery Philadelphia 2010. Wood, paint. H 40in. Published in The Colorful Sogo Bo Puppets of Mali, p. 155, Fig 183. This book includes a history of puppets, detailed photographs taken by the authors in the atelier of the famous puppeteer Sogo Bo YaYa Coulibaly, a large number of color photographs of Sogo Bo puppet shows, and photographs from the Sogo puppet collection Bo of the authors ( link to credits ).
Faaro, genius of water, Bozo people, Mali.
Photo by Elisabeth den Otter, courtesy of her courtesy extract from the Peuple de l'Eau Les Bozos du Mali .
Elisabeth den Otter is a Dutch anthropologist specializing in non-Western music, dance and mask and puppet theater.
From 1988-2003 she was curator of the ethnomusicology department at the Tropenmuseum / KIT (Royal Tropical Institute ) in Amsterdam.
Since 1990 he has been researching in Mali, especially in Kirango, a village near Segou. He has published a book: Sogo Bò. La fête des masques bamanan, 2002, with Mamadou Keita, as well as several CDs and DVDs.
Elisabeth den Otter's site is full of documents and insights on the Bozo People: elisabethdenotter.nl
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Beyond the aspect of water purification, there is also an aspect linked to the symbiosis with this element.
There are puppet practices that are related to water.
For example, even with this Muslim religion, when the holidays of the month of Ramadan begin, the first fifteen days of the month, young people use certain puppets to go from concession to concession showing their puppets, their masks.
People give them money or food, and at the end of the month of Ramadan, the clans throw a big party among themselves.
As here it is customary to eat with the hand, each person holds his first slice of bread in his left hand and after the meal, the young people run to throw this first slice of bread into the river for the water genius Faaro.
This means that there is a link between water and the population, because it is thanks to water that food crops can grow, it is thanks to water that the Bozos have what they need to live and trade with fish.
The different forms of fish that exist are recreated with puppets, which are often habitable with the manipulators inside.
This is how children, or those who are not of the Bozo or Somono culture, who are farmers who do not go on the water and who do not know the water, can learn, watch, see how the movements and attacks of this or that aquatic animal, be it fish or hippo or crocodile, how it manipulates and how it can be moved.
So there is this formidable, very strong bond with water, because in a certain sense it is the mystery: let's not forget that the puppet is often called, in many of these areas, Do, that is, "mystery".
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To understand the world of these peoples, it is necessary to know that death is only the passage from one stage to another: it is the passage to another part, but there is no definitive death, the ancestors continue to live with us.
The universe doesn't stop at what we see: the world of geniuses exists.
There are many stories, such as: "God the creator once called a couple and said: I will come to visit you. So they thought: we have children who are not beautiful, who are ugly, we will not show them to God. God has come, he has shared. the world with them, and since he is omniscient and knows everything, when he left he told them: since you are ashamed of these children, I will make sure that there is a barrier between you and them, and from time to time they can come and see you."
Here, then, is the explanation of this invisible world of genes that often manage to possess and disturb human beings on the other side of the shore.
There is the world of the ancestors, there is the invisible world and all these different worlds are parallel worlds, the passage between one world and another is allowed to certain great initiates who can go there and can use puppets, which help him. vital spirit to transport them, to pass from this world to that other.
HORSE (so) and BIRD (kònò) on a pirogue. Festival sur le Niger, Ségou, 2006
Photo by Elisabeth den Otter, courtesy of her from the Peuple de l'Eau publication. Les Bozos du Mali .
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Now we have serious problems, because there is a great increase in religious radicalism and there are few who accept this same conception of life.
For this reason, the practice of the marionette, apart from the puppets in the villages, where it is a tradition, is rare.
There are some resisters who continue to do this professionally - and even there, they don't have many followers - but now, puppetry is a practice that, as it was done before, is seriously threatened.
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We, (Acte Sept Association r.n.), are in favor of cultural diversity.
We have tried to create coalitions for cultural diversity throughout Mali to defend the different practices related to different cultures.
Those who make puppets are encouraged, those who perform theatrical activities are encouraged, those who make films are encouraged.
We are in a very difficult time.
In certain areas that have been occupied by jihadists, all artistic manifestations have been prohibited, people can no longer make music and even less puppets, which are considered even more seriously, because religion does not want representations.
We have just published a book on one hundred and five women who unfortunately today are more or less threatened: they are instrumentalists and with religious radicalism today they can no longer live certain rites.
So these women joined the plowmen in the fields to entertain them with their songs and music.
And today these plowmen have just received a grant, which has equipped them with big tractors, so they no longer need to hire many men, much less hire tools to encourage them when they work.
So these women - we have counted more than a hundred and five in one region, and there are many others - what will become of them in a few years?
And the tools, these too will disappear with them ...
Video document of the launch of the FAMES project, Femmes artistes, musiciennes, entrepreneures, social. Association Acte SEPT
In other parts, for example, we were able to make a film, thanks to the coalition of Gao and Timbuktu, who were under occupation: we saw people shouting their despair.
So we have tried to create coalitions and the coalitions are in each region and each region knows the specificity and urgency of the struggle and creates its own program of activities and we try to understand how we can help them, both of them, to carry out their projects.
Video document Le Drapeau Noir au Nord du pays , Association Acte SEPT
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I am today President of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity, I am, alas still, President of the Federation of Artists of Mali (FEDEMA) which gathers seven arts corporations.
This morning I was still discussing with a consultant to review the statutes of the regulation so that puppeteers could join together with the fashion and design corporations with architects.
Because, as of today, the FEDAMA is made up of theater, music, dance, cinema, literature, plastic arts and photography.
Now, we have to try to ensure that these artists today can have tax and social security status, because if they don't have a status and they are told, "You are a company, you have to pay taxes like any other company!".
That's not good, the specificity of each person's practice must be taken into account.
Furthermore, we have no indoor halls in Mali, and during the three winter months for the southern regions we cannot do artistic activities.
The very idea of the artist, whether he is a puppeteer or a mask maker or a dancer, is traditionally not a profession: it is the community that gives them something.
It is with the contact with Europe, with France and colonization, that we begin to talk about the puppeteer as a professional, we begin to talk about the dancer and so on, otherwise they were practices present in the great events, after the harvests, villages decided to give some of the harvest to the youth associations, and these youth associations took the time to negotiate the manufacture of a puppet or to fix the ones that were in bad shape, and then they organized and offered ceremonies to everything the village.
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There is one thing you need to understand: a Ministry of Culture was created.
The Ministry of Culture of Mali has a budget, out of the total state budget, which is 0.43% and 90% is for the operation of the Ministry of Culture.
So for non-state artists there is nothing.
The artists who came out of the community cycle have turned their gaze to the West, and are much better known there than in our country.
In addition to this, in the new neighborhoods, there is no more space for anything, the places that were reserved for young people, for artistic and sporting activities, are spaces that the real estate predators are selling.
When the jihadists arrived in Kidal, there was a house that bilateral international cooperation with Luxembourg had created, which had become an animation center, and the number of hip hop and modern music groups were already beginning to be seen. they had blossomed, and young people were beginning to find small jobs.
When the jihadists arrived, they destroyed this house, now they no longer have the recording studio that was there: they came, they blew it up.
The musical instruments were destroyed.
Some people had their fingers cut off for not being able to play.
And even in phone ringtones, music was banned.
Today, these traditional practices that were in contact with the community, all these practices, are threatened.
The Ministry of Culture has no money to help artists finance their creations.
The young people who went out to go to Europe, now they don't go out anymore.
So it's a slow but real death sentence if nothing happens.
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There is an art school in Mali, the INA and the Conservatory.
Our traditional instruments are not taught, because the Minister of Finance says that to be able to teach in these schools you must have a diploma and the diplomas have been given to instrumentalists who have learned the Spanish guitar in Europe, or who have learned to play the piano, but when they come back here, there is not a single person who can tune the piano here in the country.
These people have diplomas that allow them to teach, but those who have not had a diploma, paradoxically, are taken as visiting professors in many countries of Europe, America and a little everywhere, they are great traditional instrumentalists of the choir, ngoni, balafon; but they don't teach in our schools.
It is a Kafkaesque situation.
There are some who know what they want to do, but unfortunately they often don't have the means.
We have to brainstorm every day to see what kind of action we can take to help out, to make people smile in certain areas where there is great distress.
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There was a European program to support Mali's cultural policy, but when the crisis events occurred, this money was reallocated to security.
I keep saying every day that a war with tanks cannot be won, that spaces for meeting and dialogue must be created, and I believe that people respond much more to the call of musical instruments than to that of the Kalashnikov or the mosque.
So we should try to help these talented artists in these villages, who are being prevented from practicing their arts and who are about to die and who unfortunately have no one to pass on their knowledge to.
Young people today are moving away from all this, because their desire is to go either to Europe, crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean, or to join the jihadists.
We must change the paradigm, make people understand that these artistic practices build and weave human relationships and improve the human being and that hope can be born from all this.
Today, UNESCO has just classified one of the greatest instruments of Mali, the m'bolon : but how many people play this instrument today, and above all, have we put in place transmission mechanisms of the manufacture and sound of the m'bolon ?
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For example, we can make the great instrumentalists who are here with us make their place, their village, their hall or their hut a recognized space where people come to receive training there.
All these people who make puppets are people who have a great knowledge of botany.
A musical instrument like the balafon , throughout the Sikasso region in the south, is made with dead wood, you never cut a living tree to make a balafon , you have to search in the bush, find a dead tree that bends, that is cut and a living tree is traditionally used, but never killed to make a balafon, it is not done!
The blacksmiths-carpenters know when to cut and what kind of branches to cut to try to make their masks or their puppets.
This knowledge can help us in the fight against climate change, because these are people who have a knowledge of botany.
We are in areas where certain types of pesticides, fertilizers and more are used, which have caused chaos ...
Or, in relation to conventional cotton growing, which needs a lot of land, we didn't work to get a lot of yield, we grew extensive crops without trying to improve productivity, and this leads to deforestation, which is why we are now facing several problems, and the scarcity of these woods is a threat to food production.
The scarcity of these woods is also a threat to the manufacture of puppets and masks in general, because almost everything has been cut, and those who make charcoal or firewood make no distinction, they cut all the trees, while there are some trees that take years and years to grow.
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