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Ancora 1




Professor Fodé Moussa Sidibé is a specialist in Literary Sociology and African Civilization and holds a Doctorate in Literature from the Sorbonne University of Paris IV.
He is a lecturer at the Faculty of Literature and Linguistic Sciences (FLSL) of the University of Bamako.
He is a researcher and author renowned for the quality of his work on oral tradition, African religion and the brotherhood of Donson master hunters.
He is the author of several important publications on the oral tradition and continues his research, in particular on spirituality and Bamanan beliefs.

He is President of FESMAMAS, Festival des Masques et Marionnettes in Markala, born 27 years ago from the desire to preserve and promote the centuries-old heritage of masked and puppet parties that the rural population organizes at the beginning of the rainy season or at the end of the harvest, depending on the location.
The next edition will take place in December 2022.

With him we plunged into the Bamanan cosmogony, which considers water the very foundation of the origin of life and at the same time the element that will put an end to our present world: according to some traditions, water is  linked to the birth of puppets.


Like all peoples, the Bamanan also have the four elements: earth, fire, water and air.

For the Bamanan cosmogony the Creator Dabaama created four worlds: the first is that of the air; the second of the earth; the third, of fire, is our present world and is called diɲɛ , which means “the world that comes before water”.


The fourth world will be the world of water and it will destroy our present world.

Here is the importance of water in our cosmogony, what is foreseen and what is announced by creation.

As for water as an element, it is considered as life: water is life.

In our cosmogony, the first beings that the Creator gave life to, starting from the mud that is found on the river bank when the water recedes, are four pairs of twins, which correspond to the eight elements.


He later created three sets of twins and then created twenty-two mixed twins.

These first creatures did not have navel because they were not born, but were shaped by muddy clay, then by mixed water and earth

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 02:36

Human beings later multiplied, and all this happened on the edge of the water, where humanity has always lived in perfect harmony: those born from those first creatures, it is us, born with the navel that was formed. in the water of conception, in the maternal uterus where the child is, in the placenta, which is considered as a pool of water.

Water precedes birth, waters must be lost before the baby can be born, so this determines all the symbolism of the importance of water in life before and after birth.

The first deity who came to organize men, who established the laws of society, according to the Bamanan cosmogony, is Ba Faaro , Mother Faaro, and Ba Faaro lives in the water: she is a female deity to whom we owe the maintenance of life on earth. .

Its seat or habitat is water, so all great ceremonies have water in common, because water is the source of life: everything that is done without water is done outside of life, everything that is done with water is done with life. 


FAARO, WATER GENIUS WITH ACCOMPANIMENT Festival sur le Niger, Ségou, 2009.
Photo by Elisabeth den Otter, extracted with her kind permission from the publication " 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:


Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 01:53

The first given name is what we call tɔgɔ : when we break it down, we have , which means to leave and , means after.


So tɔgɔ is what you leave after yourself.

At birth you are given a name, but you deserve it only when you die: you wear a tɔgɔ , a path that is traced for you, but only when you die, when you have left memories, events, achieved many things, which you can understand if you have honored the name you have been given.

That is why it is said that death takes away the body but can never take away the tɔgɔ .

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 03:13

Now, as regards the puppets - the masks and the puppets - I always prefer to add masks and puppets, because the two go together: there is no puppet manifestation without a mask manifestation, the two go together.
They come from each other, because what we know, as a general rule, is that masks come first over puppets.
The masks are called soko or sogo, which means "animal": they are generally representations of animals, they can be people, but basically they were representations of animals in the context of rites, they did not come out into the open, no one could see the masks of the societies initiatory.

La sortie des masques et marionnettes de Markala (Mali) © Direction Nationale du Patrimoine Culturel du Mali, 2011 - Courtesy of the UNESCO Multimedia Office.

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 03:03

These masks represent mythical animals of the cosmogony, such as the hyena, the snake, the vulture.

Each sacredness has its profane side, the two go together.

The rites and sacrifices with masks, dances and songs, take place in the sacred wood, where the initiates enter.

Alongside this, there is the same representation, but public, profane, for those who are not initiated.

For  for this purpose masks are made, in the image of those of initiatory societies, who perform outdoors, with songs and dances inspired by those of initiatory societies.

In initiation societies, wildlife is represented to speak of human character: neophytes are educated by observing the behavior of animals.

They will not be told, "The bad guy behaves like this."

Let's just say, "Look at the rhinoceros, or the hyena in the bush, you will see what meanness means."

These are the basic elements of initiation.

In the profane we find the same visions, but this time to ridicule, to have fun with them.

It is said: "The lion, he is very strong, but now he is on the stage, and he dances ...", so there is a going beyond the fear that the lion inspires in the bush.

When we see him on the stage dancing and doing things done, we say: "Ah! But that's okay ...!"

So it is a form of socialization of the animals of the bush that we bring back to the village, and it is this same socialization that causes the initiate, knowing in the context of the initiation the character and the ways of acting of the lion, to understand something more in the moment. where the lion is in the public square.

Fragments of the DVD "La fête des masques bamana de Kirango (Mali)" Samake Records 07 Video and editing: Elisabeth den Otter ©

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 04:28

This is philosophy and these are the relationships that exist between initiation, the sacred and the profane.  

The puppets are called jirimɔgɔnin; jiri is the tree, the wood, Mɔgɔnin is the little person, therefore the little person made of wood.

This is the puppet, the human person made to represent and interpret the roles of humans, to make the theater of humanity.

We know that this theater can only be realistic if there are animals that come to tell stories with humans: in that moment it becomes theater, and this is puppet theater.

The masks act with an action where there is no constructed, told story; it is the puppets that tell the stories and these stories are made with humans and animals in the public square.

Each mask has a name, each puppet has a name: the name is the same as in the bush, when the lion comes out we will say waraba which means the lion everywhere; when it is a hyena we will say suruku, or suzani, when it is the human being we will say mɔgɔ, the person who does not have a proper name, musuma, female, or cɛ̌ma, male.

But there are masks whose names are directly related to cosmogony, the explanation of which cannot be found in everyday life.

Markala Sokobo, di Bamako Dabanani


Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 03:14

I am currently the director of the Markala Mask and Puppet Festival , I have been with these people for many years, I have spent my whole life in the city of Markala, so I can say that I am from Markala, even if I am not from there originally.
This is to say that we have learned a lot from the puppeteers.

The Bozo people belong to the same group of the Soninke, founders of the empire of Wagadou, the first empire in Mali, whose inhabitants trace their origins directly to ancient Egypt.
They say that they came from there with three mysterious things: the snake, which is called Wagadou Bida , which is called Ninki Nanka and which is also called the great snake that surrounds the world, the great snake on whose back the universe is.
Then there is the sacred hyena, Jujuju Nama , Jajaja Nama .
Then there is the vulture, which is also a symbolic animal, an animal of the origins.
The Bozo and the Soninke have the same myth.
The Soninke are devoted to agriculture and livestock, the Bozo are a people dedicated to water.

Ton di Markala 2020, video di Aly Maiga Aris

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 03:47

They also have their Donsons , that is, their hunters. 
Great fishermen are regarded as Donson : those who hunt the hippo,  the crocodile.

A land Donson does not know the habits of the hippo and crocodile.
To talk about their origins, this is what we are told: they are a people dedicated to water, who came from Egypt at the same time as the Soninke and were involved in water.
Today we see the desert, but this was not the case over time: there was water flowing into the Wagadou, the water has dried up over the centuries.

The largest stream that remains is the Djoliba, the Niger River: the Bozos have always lived on the banks of the Niger River, but many have emigrated and now also live on the shores of the sea.
They have the same practices as those who are called the Nemadi of Mauritania, also water people: they have the same techniques, the same practices.
So the Bozo people are a large people who in Mali, from Kayes to Gao, occupy the entire length of the Niger River.
They developed the practice of masks and puppets because they have the same cosmogony as all these peoples I am talking about: the elements of the story change a bit, but when you read very well or listen carefully, you see that it is the same story, everyone has a version of the same story, and we don't know now which one is the original.

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 04:37

In this cosmogony, the human being, as I said, came out of the water: the Bozos, living on the water's edge, have retained certain visions and conceptions that other peoples tended to lose.


The mastery of water is the work of the Bozo.

The Bamanan put their touch on it as men of the earth, as peasants, so it became what is now very well known: the release of masks and puppets, the Sogo Bo .

From time immemorial, to ask the creator to make the season to come favorable, there have been ceremonies  in the sacred forest and subsessively feasts in the profane, in the village, in the public square.

Shows of masks and puppets are organized, so that the divine sends a lot of water:  at the beginning of the rainy season there are not many fish, it is only with the arrival of the water that the fish arrive, so the Sogo Bo come out before and just after the rainy season, when there are fish everywhere.

The Bozo masks and puppets are aquatic: they have the shape of birds, hippopotamus, serpents and are brought out on pirogues.

Festival des Masques et des Marionnettes de Markala - 2009, video by  gf07video

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 03:50

But one of the specialties of Markala is the release of masks and puppets in the water: it is not common. 
This story, I tried to investigate ...

It started, if you like, from a certain competition between two neighborhoods of the Bozo.
Markala basically has two large neighborhoods: there is Jamarabugu and Kirango, I don't know if you have already come ... Not yet? We are waiting for you!
Both districts made masks and puppets on water and on land with the snake, the hippo, the different large fish that are in the water: they represent them on land and often represent them above the pirogues on the water. 
One neighborhood wanted to make the same representations, this time not on land, nor on water, but in water. 
So they made their puppets that represent animals, fish, spiders, and they make them come out of the water: they prepare them far away and the animal swims in the water, towards the public.
This has become a hallmark of their mask and puppet shows, which I haven't seen anywhere else but here; maybe it exists elsewhere, but personally I haven't seen it anywhere except in the Jamarabugu neighborhood in Markala. 
So it's a question of competition: “We do more than the others! We surprise  the others!".
The first year there were only three water masks, the rest were dancing, singing, dancing ...

Now there are about fifteen that come out in one evening.
Everything is based on Ba Faro , the goddess of water: at the right moment they bring out the goddess of water to whom homage is paid. 
This is what can certainly be said about the probable origin of the art of masks and puppets of the Bozo.
But what we need to remember is that the Bozos are not masks carving specialists - they are rather the Bamanan.
The exit of masks and puppets does not exist only in Markala, it is along the entire Niger river and also on the Bani, in the San region, there are also the exits of masks and puppets there and therefore we have the impression that it is an art agrarian and fluvial, the two go together, they are linked to water and agriculture.

Le marionette Bozo di Kirango, Markala, video di Bamako Dabanani

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 02:10

The entire coastline, the history of the population of Mali, is linked to the presence of the river, its confluences and its outflows.
The movements have been explained since ancient times with the withdrawal of water: people followed the water, even the development of today, on the Markala dam, is linked to water.
And it is linked above all to the snake of the Poêles, the Bamanan, the Bozos: the snake is everywhere here in this country, the snake and the vulture, the hyena intervenes only with its ears.
In iconography, the representations on Bogolan fabrics are always linked to water, but many people do not know it: the rising of the water is represented, the descent of the water, there are signs that show the flow of water on the fabrics that people wear it every day.
It is the water that is represented, even on the sheets that are put on the backs of the masks and puppets, they are generally sheets that represent water, always water, always water, we have water everywhere here: they are symbolic representations that have not been studied, if not by a few specialists who are interested in this and learn it.


Bogolan - Mali, circle of Koutiala (Minianka) Material: vegetable (cotton, dyes) Collection of ethnographic objects of the University of Strasbourg (see detailed sheet in the Ethno database of the Maison interuniversitaire des sciences de l'homme - Alsace) Inventory number : 2002.0.069

Prof. Fodé Moussa Sidibé
00:00 / 05:39

The Markala Mask and Puppet Festival has been around for about 27 years - it was our elders who created this festival.

The outings of the masks and puppets belong to the Ton, the village associations: each member contributes in money or in kind so that at the end of the year the outings of the masks and puppets can be organized.

During the various crises in Mali in the 1980s, the harvests and fishing were not good, so the Tons had difficulty organizing their traditional outings.

Three young people from Markala had the idea of organizing a festival, asking for support from economic operators and the government, during which they will compete with the various associations to give them cash prizes that will allow them to organize their masks and puppets outings in the villages.

The Markala Festival is the first festival born in Mali, they did not exist before: today Mali has more than one hundred and fifty festivals.

It all started in Markala, it's a special festival.


We think that the first festival in Mali does not deserve the destiny that is reserved for it, it is true that it is a festival of identity, but it is important for the whole country and I would say also for the whole world.

I don't believe in globalization through finance and politics at all, I rather believe in globalization through culture, I think it's the only thing we can share by enriching each other: we share with each other, but we are enriched by the other.

We would like to take our masks and puppets to Italy to make representations in the water, so that people can know what extraordinary things culture can produce if only people get involved and agree.  

So I am very happy and thank you for making these efforts to join me in a small corner here in Bamako, and I hope this can continue.


The FESMAMAS, Markal Mask and Puppet Festival was created in 1993, with its own funds, by the members of the Markala Club.

It was born of their desire to preserve and promote the centuries-old heritage of masks and puppets that the rural population organizes at the beginning of the rainy season or at the end of the harvest, depending on the location.

Thus the Club intended to participate fully in the maintenance and promotion of the cultural richness of the earth.

By transforming these ritual celebrations into a national and international festival called FESMAMAS, the Markala club wanted above all to offer the population "the means and a space for the perpetuation" of this traditional practice.

According to Professor Abdoul Traoré dit Diop, the main initiator of FESMAMAS, the ambition of the festival organizers is "to make Markala, the African capital of masks and puppets, a meeting place for other encounters". Through the FESMAMAS the Club aims at the following objectives:

- make FESMAMAS a cultural event on a regional scale and a factor of bringing together knowledge to make it from different horizons;

- lay the cornerstones of a common program of exchanges between puppeteers of the sub-region;

- create a training and learning space (sculpture of masks and puppets, games, dances, songs, rhythmics)



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