Turning away from the common ways of the Orientation Trip, today’s programme turned out to be absolutely fascinating and inspiring for the entire group. Unlike previous days, which were based on exchange with Malian cultural workers and artists, today was all about learning and receiving.
We started with the visit to the educational complex Ndomo. The centre was created in 1988 and has been developing since, as a traditional enterprise devoted to natural textile dyeing techniques in Mali. It was envisaged as a social initiative created to address the unemployment problem of the young Malian people who have not had the opportunity to go to school, so Ndomo assists them in life by training with local knowledge. It also tries to experiment with a new form of business by changing the traditional system of employer and employee and functioning more as an African family in which all the members act individually and collectively. This concept of Ndomo will be extended to other fields, such as agriculture, and more information about this can be found on their website www.ndomo.net.
The name of the programme Ndomo is actually a Bambara word for “fishing for knowledge” (“la peche du savoir”) and it is symbolised by a masque, which is traditionally inherited through the generations of the centre. The masque has five horns representing five fingers of a hand but also masculine and feminine sex.
It has a very special meaning as its five horns are also found on entrances of certain buildings, indicating that those institutions are mixed educational centres for both girls and boys.
Obviously with a long experience as an educator, Boubalar Doumbia guided us trough the entire creation process. The technique is very specific and also incredibly efficient in its simplicity. The main method is based on two kinds of dye: one, the red oker, is made of the bark of wild grape trees (“raisin sauvage”), and the other, the yellow, comes from African birch (“bouleau d’ Afrique”). The fabric is dyed in the water painted by the leaves or the bark. They are then sundried, and the process is repeated for several times until they reach the expected nuance. This textile is called Basilan, which basically means a vegetal dyed fabric. This name also indicates that the plants used poses medical properties, primarily antiseptic, and maintain these qualities even while they are worn. On the other hand, the Bogolan tradition is the one using clay. It is used primarily to draw patterns that actually work as an alphabet understood in the whole of West Africa. The patterns, with their specific graphic vocabulary, form messages addressing significant issues in family and closer community that are too sensitive to be addressed verbally, and hence help maintain peaceful relationships and a positive social climate.
The visit was completed with an exercise organised for the group. We were asked to draw up a small message on the textile with the symbols we have just learned, leaving everyone with a personal souvenir of this remarkable tradition, and hoping that institutions such as Ndomo will manage to become a successful model for many more Malian artistic tradition related institutions.
And then – the Niger! We all embarked on a boat leading us to Kalabougou expecting a boat ride to be an interesting form of transport, and it ended to be a very special experience in itself. Faced with its silent power, we were able to feel the magnitude of the Niger and reflect on how much life has come from this incredible natural creation whose splendour is actually insignificant comparing to its meaning in the survival of numerous adjacent population. The boat ride gave us glimpses into the daily lives of small villages scattered over the Niger’s riverbanks, dealing with agriculture, fishing and occasional cattle breading. The beauty of the surrounding nature and simplicity of their lives became an efficient reminder of how much could the western civilisation learn on how little we could actually need to be content.
The culmination of the day happened when we arrived at Kalabougou, with a sensation of the absolute encounter with Malian Africa. Kalabougou is a Bambara tribe village on the Niger, in the vicinity of the town Ségou. It has a special reputation for the work of its artisans, women in particular, who make the pottery that is visible all over Mali, but it is also proud of the presence of its numu blacksmiths, somono fishermen and the farmers. The village was established back in the days of the Bamana Empire (17-18 century) and the entire production process follows ancient traditions and tribal rituals.
The atmosphere in the village was slightly surreal, as residents continued their work without giving too much attention to the visitors – but still it seemed that they were satisfied have the audience to present their impressive work. Our guide introduced us to the artisans and we were able to witness the production process. The clay for the pottery is taken directly from the nearby Niger clay mine, and then moulded manually by the artisan women who are also in charge of the entire process of production, including the burning the pots in huge bonfires started once a week.
The whole production is organised in weekly cycles that reach their peak on Mondays, which is the sales day in Ségou. We witnessed their preparations on Sunday, when the boats were loaded and prepared for the temporary migration of most of the inhabitants that will all try help sell as many pots as possible on tomorrows Ségou market. The image of boats docked on the green riverbanks with hundreds of red pots scattered around waiting to be loaded, with the Kalabougou women, men and children around us, the timeless village made of same clay one side and the colossal Niger on the other, will be forever remembered.
The return to Bamako was slow and peaceful, leaving space for reflection, mental decompression and finally some blogging. The arrival to Bamako in the late afternoon gave us just enough time to get ready for a completely different experience that was to follow next day – the trip to Dakar, Senegal.
Catherine Pavlovic & Amila Ramovic