Crossroads of Culture: Bamako - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Bamako "Crossroads of Culture"
February 28, 2001

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Cattle traffic jam

The modern capital of the Republic of Mali, Bamako was founded in the seventeenth century and became a prominent commercial center. In 1883, the French built a fort within the town as a major step in their colonization of the entire region.

Hot, dusty, and seemingly overcrowded, Bamako is the least of Mali's attractions, being an amalgam of "modern" buildings, some of which are rather ghastly: Soviet-style housing units built shortly after the country's independence and mud-brick structures, all set amid what can only be described as medieval sanitation conditions. Those arriving at the airport beware and hold on to your passports. The arrival terminal is total chaos in sea of humanity.

The city does have its good points--sunset over the Niger River is spectacular. The city has a magnificent open market, where one can find crafts from throughout the country--textiles, Tuareg indigo cloth, gold and silver jewelry, spices, and carved wooden masks. The Fulani cattle market and the Ethnographic Museum are also well worth a visit. The museum is in desperate need of renovation, but contains a number of exquisite pieces representing most of Mali's ethnic groups. Its tiny bookstand should not be missed as you will find a number of limited edition books and dictionaries--it was here that I was able to pick up a handy Bambara-French dictionary, seemingly not available elsewhere in the country. The museum's curator, Samuel Sidibi, has been active in working with authorities to curb the trade in Malian antiquities; its caretaker, a wizened old man, is a specialist in animist religious practices. He has a profound understanding of the museum's holdings and is a font of information about West Africa's people for those who take the time to listen.



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© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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