The Senoufo (or “Senufo”) are a group of people living in northern Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. They are known as excellent farmers and are made up of a number of different groups who moved south to Mali and Cote d’Ivoire in the 15 and 16th centuries.
Malians are open and tolerant. Ethnic identity is still important, but where once there was enmity, in most cases a cousinage or joking cousins relationship now exists. People from different groups commonly tease and poke fun at ethnic stereotypes and past deeds, to everyones enjoyment. The only exception is the Taureg, who remain a people apart. In Mali, personal relationships are important, friendships are things of great value, families are the glue that holds everything together, and hospitality and generosity seem to increase in inverse proportion to a persons means. Malians worry about the dire state of the country and a perceived loss of tradition, rail against corruption and long for a better life, but deep down theyre a remarkably optimistic people who love to dance. They love it even more if you dance with them.
Malians struggle to hold fast to old ways of living, while embracing modern culture. This conflict is particularly acute because Mali is officially the 4th poorest country in the world and for most Malians daily life is a struggle. In this context, the role played by music in Malian life cannot be overestimated. Not only has Malis music proven to be a reassuring bastion of traditional rhythms and a bulwark against the encroachment of the modern world, it has also provided a refuge and diversion from difficult economic circumstances. It is little wonder, therefore, that music accompanies everything in Malian life. 80 to 90% of Malians are Muslim.
The Senoufo follow a strict caste-like system, in which the farmer is at the top and the musicians are at the bottom rung of society. Farming is a huge part of the Senefou culture, even for those who do not belong to the farmer caste. A very communal society, people will often take turns working on each others lands and trading on and off. There is almost always a group in each village that is made up of men ages 15-35 who work in fields. With these fields they provide a huge festival during the dry season for the village. During these festivals, they play local games to see how fast someone can hoe a field. This is designed to make work more enjoyable.
One of the great honors for a Senefou male is to become the sambali, or champion cultivator. The sambali is respected throughout the region, and in his old age is given predominantly leadership roles. Another society for Senoufo male is the poro. The poro is usually located in the forest and serves as a school for young men until they reach adulthood. Much sculptured work is made in the poro; this is where much of the woodcarvings, brass sculptures, and masks are made. Sometimes these are sold to local artisans. The greatest achievement for a Senoufo woman is the ability to cook well. If a girl or woman cannot cook well it is a great shame to the family, especially the mother. The women’s society, known as the sandogo is mainly responsible for divination.
A very animistic society, the Senoufo believes that everything is a result of the ancestor spirits. If a ritual is not performed correctly then the spirit will cause draught, infertility, or prolonged illness.