The great way of the water
The Inner Niger Delta. A large region of lakes and floodplains, supporting a population of 500,000 in a land that would otherwise be swallowed by the sands of the Sahara desert. It is a fertile region, providing irrigation for livestock and crops, and supporting a rich ecosystem. This natural wonder is at the heart of Mali's society, economy, and culture.
This is Mopti: Mali's busiest port, where the River Niger meets the River Bani. Boats from across the whole of Mali pass through the town – an eclectic mix of distinctive neighborhoods and villages, inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups. Many, like the Bozo and Fulani, have traded here for centuries.
50 miles downstream from Mopti is Mali's largest Lake, Debo. The rural communities lining its banks are completely reliant on the Lake's annual floodwaters to sustain their traditional way of life.
The floodplains, marshland, and bush surrounding Lake Debo also support a rich natural ecosystem. The local communities are expert at exploiting the region's unique flora and fauna.
10:02:40:04 Boubacar Tessougue -
This is a wild tree that does not produce edible fruits. Its too difficult to give it a scientific name, or a French name, because there are a lot of trees here that do not exist in European countries. And all the trees that you can find in nature may be useful in traditional medicine. This is called moroie because it has many thorns and therefore it is difficult to approach the trunk. Although it has no edible fruits, it is used in traditional medicine, as are many other plants. For example this plant which is located beneath the tree, named Nyama in the Bambara language or koiban in Dogon. It is also used in traditional medicine, as well as for clothes dye. With the leaves and bark of this tree you can extract a useful pigment to change the color of clothes made for various ceremonies. Funerals or initiation ceremonies, or clothes of hunters in the brotherhood of traditional hunting.
The Niger flows through Malì for 1400 km, unfolding in a broad course across the desert and plains. Its importance through the ages to Mali civilisation has been enormous - opening a trade route that extends from the Gulf of Guinea in the south, to Timbuktu and the camel caravans of the Sahara in the north.
Completely landlocked, and with the Sahara desert consuming the whole of the north Eastern half of its territory, the lives of Mali's inhabitants have always been intrinsically linked to the country's waterways, and the opportunities they open up. The historical importance of the trade routes means complex traditions have been able to grow around goods imported from distant lands.
10:06:00:00 Boubacar Tessougue
These are kola nuts, an imported product. They are grown in the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ghana. In Malì, they fulfill many traditional uses, by all ethnic groups and in many circumstances.
For example, when a stranger arrives in a village, to bless his arrival and to receive a warm welcome, it's good that he honors the village head with cola nuts. For us it is a symbolic gift, offered to the elderly. And the juice released by chewing the nuts gives them energy.
Cola nuts are also used for sacrifices, rites, and some forms of divination. Today, however, we will use them to make gifts. We will donate them to the village chief, the elderly and other people who still deserve to receive them. They will then be happy and well-disposed to greet and converse with us.
This is the village of Goura Foulbè, home to a predominantly Peul community. The village chief is Amadou Bah Alladzi.
10:07:50:00 Amadou Bah Alladzi; Peul village "Goura Foulbè
This is a large village, many people live here.
The population is divided into three categories: fishermen, pastoral farmers and crop farmers. Which correspond to three different ethnic groups, that coexist in perfect harmony.
The pastoral farmers, who are ethnic Peul, live around the village for 8 months of the year until May arrives. As the temperature rises, and the grass starts to dwindle they embark on a seasonal migration, moving to northern regions for four months, after which they return to the village with their flocks. The crop farmers take care of the work in the fields, and are able to earn income from the crops of rice and millet. The fishermen, who belong to the Bozo ethnic group, are stationed around the lake for fishing. Seasonally, as the water recedes, before the first rains arrive, they are forced to move a few kilometers. The village therefore survives through these three activities: pastoral farming, agriculture and fishing.
10:09:07:00 Boubacar Tessougue
How do you see the future? the future of Malì, the future of the village?
10:09:16:00 Amadou Bah Alladzi
In the past people did not have many resources, there was no technology with its developments, there was a lot of experience, there were no schools. Today there is technology, there is the experience, the children go to school, in fact there was a big change. If people have acquired courage, have the experience, they are willing to do new things, then Malì will be a better country, and if this continues it will be better than France itself. Today there is work. First the people did not work, crossed their arms ... today, many who come here, for example tourists, ask us: what do you want? They ask if we want the gifts, but we do not want the gifts, because if one gets used to receiving gifts he crosses his arms, does not work. I ask someone to teach us how to work as it progresses. If they teach you how to, you can work, work better, you can earn some money.
And Malians have the temperament suited to accommodate and support the efforts that the government is doing on this path of progress. Today, I think, I very much hope that in the course of my life, I see a country always improving.
The neighbouring settlement to Goura Folbe is the Bozo village of Goura; Yusuf Sembè is the village chief and his son is Allai Sembè.
10:12:12:00 Headman: Yusuf Sembè Goura village Bozo
In this village the only ethnic group is that of Bozo, no other races, no ethnic Peul, there is no other combination. We live by three things: from agriculture, livestock and fishing. I would say that almost the entire village lives from fishing, then cultivating rice and finally some livestock. We are a settlement of seven or eight hundred people.
10:12:41:00 Boubacar Tessougue
And can you earn money?
In the past, not any more. There is a shortage of fish.
10:13:12:00 Allai Sembè Goura village Bozo
Nevertheless we survive; but does not believe that things will improve in the future. If it's already difficult today, what will happen in ten years, thirty years from now? How will things change? He does not believe that they will change today, because every year there is something that does not work well.
Does he believe this way of living is going to come to an end in the face of the tools that technology spreads - such as mobile phones, televisions?
10:13:45:00 Allai Sembè Goura village Bozo
There are not many people of the village that have the telephone, the radio, and some even the TV; there are in fact few material goods in the village, because people are used to fishing, and they are fewer in number than amongst those who emigrate to work in Segou to Bamako, or in other places. These are people who are not used to this; I am used to fishing, and I live through fishing.
The Malì tribes are fighting to preserve their way of life while at the same time opening up to modernity. It's not an easy conflict to solve, made more difficult by the daily challenges the majority of Malians face without respite. Almost a third of the population suffers from malnutrition, and 90% live on less than $2 a day. In recent years, a persistent and progressive drought has greatly diminished the Niger and the other rivers, with devastating consequences. The waters are Malì's only defence against the desert; without them, this beautiful country would slide inexorably into the sand.
The families of Bozo fishermen, who travel up the river every year, are finding their migration more and more difficult. Sandbanks and rocky outcrops increasingly impair navigation. Climate change over the past 20 years has reduced the flow of the river by over a third, while the population along its banks continues to increase. The dunes that rise along those banks are a harbinger of the advancing desert. This is the heart of the Sahel, where life is a constant struggle against the encroaching sand.
Despite the difficulty of the times, the village chief of Tongorongo, Boubacar Traore, feels that his people's traditions need not be discarded in the name of modernisation.
10:17:05:00 Boubacar Tessougue
Cheif Boubacar, we came here to meet you and to learn about the ethnicity of this village.
10:17:10:00 Boubacar Traore headman ethnicity Sarakolè
We are Sarakolè, from the region of Kayes. We are a traditionally a nation of travelers and traders. In France, America, wherever you happen to meet immigrants from Malì, Sarakolè and are certainly there. And by a strange coincidence we came here, to live between Bozo. I do not know why we returned to this region. We live off agriculture, cultivating rice. Some fising and a small amount of livestock breeding,
Traders are a minority.
10:17:58:00 Boubacar Tessougue
How do you see the future Chief Boubacar?
10:18:01:00 Boubacar Traore headman ethnicity Sarakolè
Before working as a farmer I was a teacher in the Koranic school. Then one day the envoys of the government came and began to hand over documents without explaining what it was, and made those who were not able to read sign them. But today, and for this I thank God, there are schools, our children are educated. If you present them a document they tell you what it says. Of course, many things have changed. Before everything was done by hand, today there are machines, canoes, at least many of them have the engines. Traditional transport was by donkey; today we have some cars, there are motorcycles. Our suffering is diminished and I see a possible development. Our children go to school, you are making your brain grow and gain experiences that form them in a better manner than has been possible for us.
I think that the arrival of foreign tourists who come to our village is a good thing, an important thing. Thanks to them we were able to accomplish many things. They helped us to open schools. Only those who come from here can understand our problems, and once understood, can help us find a solution. I do not think that our world will end; our task is to try to improve it, improve it in a way that is consistent with our traditions.
There is a widespread sense among the village chiefs that progress does not need to mean the loss of their traditions and culture; a feeling that progress can be achieved in a way that compliments the lifestyles that have existed here for hundreds of years.
And this hope for progress seems to cut through Mali society - the hope that development isn't the same as westernisation.
Do you think this livelihood will end?
10:20:58:00 Boubacar Tessougue
For me it will end, but nature will not change overnight.
Fishermen are proud to do what they do, it's their job, this life. They are people who do not live in large cities, are used to living on the bank of the river, and most are nomadic, moving continuously along the river. This is their life, as well as farmers living in their fields, fishermen live always at the edge of the water to make a living. It is also the only resource at their disposal to obtain an income, to meet the needs of the family. So it's a job that will never end, this way of life will not end at any moment.
But, do you think that these people are happy to live this way? If so, why?
10:21:51:00 Boubacar Tessougue
The people are very happy to live in this way. They are real people, have their own traditions that are unique to them, a way of life that is not the same as other lives. A little like fish: perhaps the fish are the same as animals that live out of water? But no, they are not the same thing; you can not compare a manatee a hyena. They are not the same thing, the manatee lives in water, without water they die. So these are people who preserve their lives, who guard their secret. Hold on to water, and the knowledge of the mystery of water.
What do you think of Malì, and the future of this country?
10:22:42:00 Boubacar Tessougue
My vision for the future of Malì is... I think there will be progress.
In the past there was colonization. But long before then, people were real, in the sense that they lived in tune with the world around them. They lived in their own way and had a lifestyle of their own. Then we had western influence and religion, which led to the change. But later, things have changed again because people have made some progress. There are schools, people are more open, more educated, there are now resources, intellectual resources, which means that there will still be progress in the future of Mali. Either in fishing, in agriculture, in all that is business andeconomic activity.
I think there will be significant development in every field. Mali is intended to progress. Sometimes we suffer the political of Western circles and others. We may have a different idea of progress, but other than that we do not have other problems. I really see the progress, the advance, the rise of the nation. This really is my vision for what Mali has become, and I have high hopes for what we can become in the future.
10:24:35:00 END TITLES
GREAT WAY OF THE WATER
Habib Koite & Bamada
Amadou Bah Alladzi
Embassy of Mali-Rome
Prefecture of Bandiagara
Town of Bandiagara
Forum Bana - Maya
Namania - Afriki
Mali Ba - Afriki
Manssa Cisse - Maya
N'ba - Afriki
The Mada - Maya
Africa - Afriki
a produced by
Audiovisual Production Company - SPAVsrl Rome
in collaboration with
RAI Italian Television