Bamanankan (Bambara) is a group of more than 6 million people and is the largest ethnic group in Mali. They come from three areas that are currently located in the regions of Ségou, Bélédougou and Kaarta. The language (kan) of the Bamanan of Mali belongs to the Mandé group, one of the most important in Africa, to which are attached among others, the Malinké and Soussou in Guinea Conakry, the Mandingoes of Casamance or the Samo of Burkina Faso. Very similar to Dioula language, Bambara dialectal is also present in Ivory Coast.

Zoom on the history of this impressive ethnic group of West Africa!



The Bambara referred to themselves as Bamanankan.

Ban-ma-na: Those who refused to submit

According to oral tradition, the kingdom of Ségou was founded by two brothers (Niangolo and Baramangolo) who came from Ivory Coast. Chased by enemies, they reached a river where they looked for a canoe to escape. They could not find a boat, but were finally saved by a large catfish. The fish would have risen from the waters making his body a bridge, which allowed the two brothers to flee. Once the river crossed, the brothers separated. Baramangolo settled on the right bank of the Niger, and founded the kingdom of Ségou, Niangolo meanwhile settled on the left bank. He founded the kingdom of Kaarta. According to the griots, the Bambara people took the name of “Koulibaly” at that time, Kulu meaning “canoe” and Bali “without”. The kingdom of Ségou will know its apogee at the beginning of the XVIIe century.
A man left an important mark in the history of the kingdom: Biton Mamary Coulibaly who is native of Nyamana, near the actual city of San. Great hunter during his young ages, Biton quickly won respect from the entire village. He became the Tontigi (leader) and took control of the entire country. Once King, he undertook to transform the group of young people into a real military force. A great ruler and great strategist, Biton demanded that his men swear allegiance to the fetishes of the ancestors. Biton, great king of Ségou led many wars that gave Segou the respect it still enjoy, but he also forged alliances with the neighbors Marka, Peul and Minyanka when he did not think it necessary to fight them. At his death, his companions, the Tonjon (soldiers), opposed his legitimate successors. Intrigues and coups d’état punctuated the life of the kingdom for a few decades.


The main religion in Mali is Islam, however the country is not an Islamic republic and the practice of this religion is moderate. But at a certain age, it becomes difficult to avoid the observance of Muslim precepts (Ramadan and prayers). However, religious syncretism is common. The Soninke, Fulani, Tuareg, Songhai and Bozo were the first converts and remain the most Islamized. There is also animism, the ancestral spirituality of the old empire, which is practiced by a part of the population, especially the Dogon who resisted Islam, the Senoufo, the Bamanankan, and the Malinké.
Three main points constitute the spirituality of the Bamanankan of Segou: the existence of a supreme God “Faro”, the presence of a group of deities frequently invoked and the importance of various spirits and ancestors related to many aspects of everyday life.
Initiation is a fundamental phase in all aspects of Bamanankan life. These include the N’domo, Komo, Nyama and Koré clans. Blacksmiths’ clan, N’domo, deals with circumcision and prepares young boys for their future roles as adults. They learn about the origin of humankind. Komo is the clan of men initiation among the Bambara. Operation and practices can not be disclosed. However, it is useful to know that there are other initiation clans in the Bambara culture such as Kono (women’s initiation). Nyama acts against evil spirits. Koré is divided into eight distinct levels that correspond to celestial and terrestrial elements. The rite of passage has 3 stages. The first stage is the detachment from the foreign religion and the tribe. The second is between the two stages. The initiate finds himself between two social significances. The last stage is the return to the tribe with a new social status. This initiation aims at the knowledge, the instruction of the person and the change of social status. Faro is the creator and guide of the universe and holds their destiny in his hands. But, like most Africans, the Bambara honor the ancestors, placing themselves under the benevolent protection of their spirits. One of the elements is the offering, that is to say, offering the ancestors the first drops of a drink before consuming it by pouring on the ground.

Language and writing

When today we speak Bambara language, a large majority of Malians refers to the subgroup of the center or Mandingo. In this Mandingo appellation, there is a continuum Mandinka, Khassonke, Dioula, and Bambara. The Bamanankan, which is most often studied as the standard language, is Bambako, which is an urban form lined with a mixture of Bamanankan from Segou, Maninkakan from Kangaba and Kita. However Bamanankan language of Segou has the reputation of being the pure form of this language, because it is a form less urbanized than that of Bamako, therefore undergoing less external influences. Since it is the language of the capital, it quickly became the lingua franca in the south and to a lesser extent the center of Mali.
The N’Ko writing was invented by Souleymane Kante in Guinea in 1949. It is mainly used by Malinke speakers, Bamanankan in Guinea, but also in Mali and Ivory Coast.

First names

Generally, Bamanankan give first names to their children according to the order of birth. The first son is Nci, the second is Ngolo, and the third is Nzanke. It is usual also that the first son bears the name of the father. But it is clear that since the arrival of Islam, Bamanankan converts, more and more numerous, have taken Muslim first names. In doing so, their children and grandchildren no longer carry traditional names because they are given the first name of the Muslim grandfather even when the parents themselves are not Muslims. It is even common to meet children born in Christian families have Muslim names because of the person who is honored by giving his name to the child.


In Mali, some ethnic groups wear scarification to distinguish themselves from others. This tendency tends to be lost and we meet less and less. However, the scarifications do not always refer to ethnicity, tribe, clan, or name. They can also the birth place of the individual.


The main activity of Bamanankan remains agriculture. It is extensive and consists mainly of growing cereals (millet, maize, rice, fonio). The fields are located outside the village. In recent years, peanuts and cotton have also been cultivated. It is farmed by the women who harvest it too. The instruments used by the Bamanankan are rather rudimentary, they are hoes and dabas.

Holidays and leisure

Opportunities are not many. They are limited to weddings (Furusiri), baptisms (denkundi), circumcisions and excisions (bolokoli). However, after the fieldwork period, every night, the youths play tom-tom, sing and dance. However in the city the parties organized by the young people are not made around the tam-tam, but in a room and the rhythm of modern music.

The seven days of the week in Bamanankan:

Ntenen – Monday
Tarata – Tuesday
Araba – Wednesday
Alamisa – Thursday
Juma – Friday
Sibir – Saturday
Kari – Sunday