A Malian Genealogy– “the generations of the village”

The Village Meeting Place, Sena, West Africa

In January 2011, when John and I were in Mali, West Africa, we spent a day in the village of Sena. To get there, we traveled 2 hours into the bush on dry washboard roads that rattled every bone in our bodies. About 400 people live in Sena. As we pulled into the village with Djiba, our interpreter, the village Elders started coming from out of nowhere. They gathered an assortment of chairs and benches of every variety and for 2 hours we sat in the school yard and talked with these wizened old men about the problems in their village. They spoke of their main concerns: they do not have enough food, they need farming tools, they need more wells, their teachers are unpaid, and they wish they had a health center with medicines.

After the meeting we walked through the village and visited with women pounding millet and others cracking roasted shea nuts. There were children herding skin and bones Brahma bulls, donkeys looking for shade, and a scattering of chickens. Curious children followed us. Many were brave enough to take my hand.

Djiba took me to the Village Hall in the center of the village, a round mudbrick building with a thatch roof. He told me it was about 120 years old. As we entered, there was a center pole supporting the logs holding the roof together. Djiba said they can fit up to 150 people inside when they meet there for important village meetings. It’s also the place where the 10-12 year-old boys are circumcised. Up in the rafters were some dusty old gourd rattles they use to distract the boys during that ceremony.

Another interesting thing hanging from a pole on the wall was an old collection of what looked like woven bracelets. Djiba told me that was the “generations of the village” and when I questioned him, he said that until about 5 years ago, that’s how they kept track of the generations of people living there. When a child reached adulthood, they got to add their ring to the collection of rings strung on a rope. There were 100s of them hanging there, the genealogy of Sena. The old people are able to recite the history of the people from these woven bands. They looked like braided bracelets made from straw or thatch. What an interesting way to keep an oral history among a people who have no paper records. The Angels in Heaven will have to help us read these unique histories some day.

This morning I told my Family History class about these African records as we talked about those Angels in Heaven who have charge over us and who will help see that every child of God is gathered. What an exciting day that will be! Some day, in some place I hope I get to watch as these particular records are “read” and everyone is accounted for. What a thrill that would be.

“The Generations of the Village” –Family History Records in Mali

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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2 Responses to A Malian Genealogy– “the generations of the village”

  1. Brent Hansen says:

    This is so interesting! Thank you for sharing. Have you been back since? FamilySearch is undertaking one of the largest preservation projects ever (approximately 700,000 interviews) to capture the oral histories and oral genealogies in Africa. This work started in Ghana in 2004. FamilySearch is now working in 14 countries. We run across artifacts that help in the memory, such as you see with the bracelets.

    • Yes, we go back every year (but we’re serving a mission right now). I thought that Malian history was the most fascinating history I’ve ever seen! I loved the article about preserving records. Thanks for all you do!

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