The geographical coordinates of Mali are located at 17° N and 4° W in the western Africa. It is surrounded by Algeria to the north and northeast, Burkina Faso to the southeast, and Guinea and Ivory Coast to the south. Nigeria shares its eastern border and to the west are Senegal and Mauritania. The terrain is divided into three natural zones. There is the fertile land of Sudanese used for cultivation, located in the south, there is the dry Saharan in the northern side and the central region is the semiarid Sahelian. It has a total area of 1,240,192 sq. kilometres and its capital city is Bamako which is also its largest city.
The inhabitants of Mali are known as Malians. They are mixture of different ethnic groups Mande comprising of Bambara, Malinke and Soninke, Peul, Voltaic, Songhai, Taureg and Moor. The population is estimated to be around 15, 968,882 by 2013. The capital city Bambara is the sixth fastest growing city in the world, in terms of population. Most of the population are Muslims and the rest few are Christians, Animist and others. Though French is the official language of Mali, the most widely spoken language is Bambara. Other indigenous languages are Peul, Dogon, Maraka, Malinke, Sonrhai, Miniaka, Tamacheq, Senoufo and others.
The Malians have their own unique culture. In a Malian family, women usually stay at home and do the household works. Despite that, they like to look good and dress up properly. In some of the villages, they wear their traditional robe dress known as bouchou, which is a dress with rich patterns and accompanied by a matching headwear. Any major decision regarding a village is taken after consulting the chief or the elders of the village.
Another important feature of the Malian culture is the kola nut. This small nut holds a great importance as a symbol of respect. It is also used for greeting any guest in the house. This kola plays an important role in the Malian marriage as well. The man has to present three kolas to his to-be father-in-law for a marriage proposal. On acceptance of the proposal and as a symbol of confirmation another 10 kolas are gifted. Finally, a basket of kola nuts is presented on the day of marriage.
The staple foods of Mali are rice, millet, sorghum and a fine-grained African cereal known as fonio. They eat these usually with fish, meat or vegetable sauces. A famous local drink of Mali known as Djablani is their favourite drink. It is actually a juice of hibiscus, ginger or the fruit of baobab tree and sold in polythene bags across the streets. The diet habit differs from region to region. Some of the popular dishes are: Poulet yassa (local chicken dish), mafe (beef dish), la capitaine sangha (fish served on hot chilli sauce with fried banana and rice, fufu (mashed vegetables such as yams, yucca or potatoes) and meni-meniyong, the most popular Malinese desert with ingredients such as sesame seeds, honey and unsalted butter.
Being an Islamic country, their most important festival is the Ramadan, but there are other festivals which are very popular across the nation and some are even known all over the world for their uniqueness. Some of them are:
- Festival au Desert
This festival is celebrated in early January every year in Essakane which is located towards the north of Timbuktu, in the sands of Sahara. It is also considered as the most remote festival of the world. In history, this festival started off as a means to maintain peace between Tauregs and other ethnic groups, and thus celebrate their musical achievements from the past.
- Festival sur le Niger
It is an annual music festival celebrated in the first week of February in the town of Segou on the banks of Africa’s third largest river, Niger River. There are various musical concerts featuring a number of world renowned musicians. This festival is celebrated with dances and visual arts. The festival features some of the magical collaborations from some of the power pact performers from different parts of the world.
- Djenne: Plastering the Great Mosque
This is one of the most important festivals of Mali. Every year at the end of April, a village chief sets a date to start the re-mudding festival of the Great Mosque, Djenne. This festival goes on for nearly ten days. The villagers prepare mud in pits and the whole village gather at the mosque to mud it. Village men are distributed into different groups for the re-mudding task. One group of men uses the palm wood ladder to apply the mud and another group carry the mud from the pit to the mosque. During this festival every other person belonging to Djenne takes off from their jobs and get involved in re-mudding the mosque.