Posts Tagged With: Cercle de Nara

The Horse Of The Sahel

A young Sahel stallion with his owner, a wealthy horse breeder and trader

In the cercle de Nara the most beautiful horses can be found. After a short while I became the owner of two.

The horses of the Sahel are small in frame with slender and long legs. They are extremely robust and resistant and adapted to the harsh and unforgiving climate of the Sahel belt. Their lineage can be traced back to the Sahelian kingdoms.

The Sahelian kingdoms were kingdoms or empires that were all centered on the Sahel belt, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara, spanning 1000km across Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

The wealth of the states came from controlling the trade routes across the desert. Their power came from having large pack animals like camels and beautiful horses that were fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also useful in battle. The first kingdom was the Empire of Ghana founded 2500 BCE. All these kingdoms had substantial and significant towns but still each empire had a great deal of autonomy.

In every village the beautiful small and slender Sahel horses can be found

In most of the villages in the Nara region these beautiful horses could be seen. Horses were treated  extremely well and cared for which stood in strong contrast to countries further down South, such as South Africa, Namibia and Bostwana, where horses were seen as mere means of transportation for many and can be ridden up to exhaustion.

In Nara, the value of a horse was well understood and the long history that the Sahel horse has in this region made them precious companions for their owners. Horses belong to the life of the sahel.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Horses, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, People, Sahel, Transport, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Payer Avant De Consumer! Pay Before You Drink!

Akono posing in front of the beverages selection available for consumption at the Kouame Bar in Nara

There was nothing that could be said about “Nara au Sahel” with absolute certainty except the one thing: that it was a very very hot place ( temperature wise, I mean). The management of the Ghanaian Kouame Bar, Akono, took care of the thirst of the residents that had been accumulated during a long hot Sahel day.

The establishment, having gained such great popularity, especially in the later hours of the night when darkness prevailed, had some serious rules that could not be bend or contradicted, no matter what the reason was.


Payer avant de consumer!Pay before you drink!

Payez avant de consumer ! Pay before you drink ! – was the most important rule. And admittedly it made a lot of sense.

A basic selection makes your life easy and does not confuse you!

The selection of beverages on offer were exhibited openly and were easy to memorize by a tired mind. Your choice was made very easy. In the afternoon one could already decide for which drink to go at night. Ten drinks were available depending on the stock and on the condition that the delivery trucks had come through from Bamako without breaking down or getting stuck on the road for several days.

There was no need to study long menus of complicated cocktail mixes. Apart from that the Koaume Bar was a place of great happiness, animated discussion and relaxation. I will tell you about the grilled cow feet and legs, that are a Ghanaian speciality another day.

Categories: Africa, Bar Kouame, Mali, Market, Nara, People, Sahel, Street Life, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sahelian Architecture in Nara, Murals in Ocre and Mud Bricks


My working days looked like this: I started out early and went to the villages in the morning when it was not too hot. I came back at around lunch time and during the obligatory desert siesta I took notes ( yes, notes from my mud hut. I filled page after page of my diary with descriptions of what I saw and what I experienced). In the afternoon I went again to the villages to come back shortly before sunset. Then I got myself a drink, usually a beer from Kouame’s Bar or the unavoidable colonial Gin and tonic and looked over my wall until it got night, holding my drink below and not above the wall as Kodjo had recommended.

No, I am not strange ! That was what other people did as well. Except for the beer and the constant visiting of the villages. But looking over the wall is a popular past time in Nara and it is really absolutely not boring.

I visited the villages daily, mornings, afternoons and sometimes even in the evenings when I was invited for a ceremony. I was blessed because I was allowed to witness so many scenes of Nara daily life. When browsing the internet now I come from time to time across great articles that describe in detail some aspects of Malian life.

I was really incredibly blessed. Sometimes you don’t know a blessing when it is there, but you realize it later how great the gift was that you have received. The fact that I stayed for several years in Nara gave me the chance to see everything with my own eyes and to  experience the pleasure of just being there !

Not only to see it with my own eyes but to see it OVER AND AGAIN – until I could say without shame, yes I have seen this truly.

Most of the buildings in the villages in the Sahel zone are mud brick constructions. Mud brick houses are the traditional way of building in the Cercle de Nara and way beyond the borders into Mauritania.

The mud bricks are made where and when they are needed. Villages usually have a mud hole next to them, often in a dry lake,  where the bricks for the village are made. Mud brick building have to be repaired a certain period of time, especially after the rainy season, and need frequent attention but it is astonishing how long mud bricks can last.

A mud brick is a non fired brick, made of a mixture of clay, mud, sand, and water mixed with a natural and organic binding material such as rice husks or straw. Brickmakers use a stiff mixture and let them dry in the sun for 25 days. It takes a lot of experience to make bricks and a brickmaker is a professional who works throughout the whole year. He makes bricks for other people as well.

A well maintained and with beautiful wall mural decorated homestead in the village of Keybane Soninke

In warm regions, like the Sahelian zone with very little wood available to fuel a kiln, the bricks were generally left in the sun to dry out. This had the result that their useful lifespan is reduced to around thirty years. Once a building collapsed, new bricks would have to be made and the new structure rebuilt on top of the rubble of the decayed old brick.

This phenomenon is the primary factor behind the mounds on which many ancient cities stand. In some cases brickmakers extended the life of mud bricks by putting kiln dried bricks on top or covering them with stucco.

In the Nara environment the mud brick were called Banco: a mixture of mud and grain husks, fermented, and either formed into bricks or applied on surfaces as a plaster like paste in broad strokes. This plaster must be re-applied annually

A traditional wall painting on a "Banco plastered wall" made from mud bricks in Keybane Soninke

Categories: Africa, African Architecture, Mali, Mali Wall Murals, Nara, Sudano Sahelian, Tradition, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baobab – The Trees of The Spirits

Where the ancestors gather!

A Legend from Africa

In the mystical land Africa grew a beautiful tree called Baobab. Although tall and mighty, the Baobab was not satisfied with what it was and it complained to the Great Spirit who ruled the land, the wild open plains and the animals. The Baobab still wanted to be taller, have blossoms and fruits. At first the Great Spirit ignored the tree, but when the complaining continued the Great Spirit got tired, reached down from the heavens, yanked the tree out of the earth and stuffed it back into the ground with force upside down. All the animals on the great plains noticed this and were reminded of the power and omnipresence of the Great Spirit. After that the Baobab grew only leaves once a year. For nine months of the year it stayed leafless and it seemed like as if its roots are growing into the air. And this is how it still is today.

This is an African legend of the Baobab tree. There are many more legends from other countries. The Baobab – Adansonia Digitata – grows on the savannahs of Africa and India, mostly around the equator. It can get up to 25 meters in height and it lives for thousands of years.

Each product of the Baobab is used. From the bark clothes and ropes are made, the leaves can be cooked into a sauce or used as traditional medicine and the fruit often called ” monkey bread ” is eaten as well. Apart from being one of the most beneficial and wondrous trees on this earth it is a mystical tree that attracts spirits.

In the “Cercle de Nara” the Baobab was highly valued by the people. Every year a group of young men left their villages and traveled with donkey carts to areas in the Sahel where the Baobab grew to gather the leaves and bark. Sometimes they would stay away from home for two or three weeks. But with every new year the journey became longer and harder and the harvest less. The Baobab leaves had become scarce. This “mini migration movement” for the beneficial products of the Baobab tree took place every year and the scarcity of the trees and the adventures encountered by the men on the trip were a topic in many a conversation.

In Narai, I was told the spirits of the ancestors visit the trees often and stay a while if it pleases them. In the branches of a Baobab one can feel the ancestors.

As part of our “multisectoral holistic village development programme” that supported self-help initiatives in the Cercle of Nara we had started researching the history of the Baobab ( Adansonia Digitata) on a local level. Under the framework of our agroforestry programme that aimed at planting, growing and re-introducing indigenous trees, we suggested to the people in the village to plant and grow the Adansonia Digitata close-by. This would eventually with time lead to the availability of Baobab leaves, bark and fruits, contribute to re-forestation in the Sahel and reduce the necessity of traveling to remote areas to collect the products. It was an idea that had been well thought through and reflected on from a point of planning and organization. And it was possible to grow the Baobab. I had done several test at my house.

But during several hot afternoon meetings in different villages the men listened to the projects suggestions with great secptism. There was great reluctance.

One afternoon I received the visit of a village chief who had come to the market in Nara to do business.

” Why is it difficult to grow the Baobab” ? I asked him over tea.

” You can live close to a Baobab tree, but you should not plant a new Baobab tree in your yard. You will die before you see it grow big and it is absolutely not sure how the spirits of the ancestors would react to such an action.”

I believe that in most things that are said in Africa, there is truth!

Categories: Adansonia Digitata, Africa, Baobab, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Children In The Villages Are The Greatest Inventors

A group of children in the village of Keybane Soninke

Many things have changed during the last ten years in Mali. With the construction of a tarred road Nara has come out of its isolation. There is cell phone reception and internet access now in Nara. A friend said to me the other day: “These pictures are beautiful memories and you must tell the stories that belong to them”.  The stories can be told easily but the problem is to find the right angle and to link them to the present, since they are my memoirs from the past.

The two pictures show a group of children in the village of Keybane Soninke. The children in the villages of the “Cercle de Nara” can be called without exaggerating ” the greatest inventors on earth”. There was nothing to play with. At least not something that could be called a toy in a traditional or classical way. The contrast between a child raised in a first world country and a child raised in a small village in the Sahel could not be greater.

Extreme poverty creates extreme creativty. Anything could and would be turned into a toy, provided it was interesting enough and it was not needed by the adults anymore.

Is the scenario still the same today or has the arrival of technology als changed the life of the children in the villages. The only way to find out for me is to go back there!

The children in the village

Categories: Africa, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Papeterie et Librairie de Cheick Hamalla Traore a Nara

I can not tell you if this little shop still exists but when I was living in Nara, la papeterie and librairie ( paper and stationery shop) of Cheick Hamalla Traore was the place to source your material for the office.

Many small shops were situated around the central market in Nara. An entire library of its own could be written about the life stories of the traders and owners of these convenience shops.

 I have listened more than afternoon over a  glass – or three – of strong, delicious Arab tea to their adventures about doing trade in the Sahel.

Categories: Mali, Market, Nara, Papeterie, People, Sahel, Street Life, Tradition, Transport, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where is Nara ?

Wooden Fence In A Village

The answer you would get when asking a Malian would be: up north !

Categories: Africa, Nara | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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