Introduction / History The Bambara are among the most powerful and influential groups in Mali. They are also the largest ethnic group in the country. The Bambara live in the middle valley of the Niger River. They speak Bamana, which is one of the Manding languages. Bamana is widely spoken in Mali, especially in the realm of business and commerce.
During the 1700s, there were two Bambara kingdoms: Segu and Karta. In the 1800s, militant Muslim groups overthrew these kingdoms, leaving only a few anti-Muslim Bambara warlords to resist their occupation. This lasted forty years, until the arrival of the French. A very small number of the Bambara had converted to Islam by 1912.
After World War II, the number of Muslim converts grew due to their resistance to the French and their exposure to Muslim merchants. Today, the Bambara are mostly Muslim.
What are their lives like? Most of the Bambara are farmers. Their staple crop is millet, although sorghum and groundnuts are produced in large quantities. Maize, tobacco, cassava, and various other vegetables are also grown in private gardens. Unfortunately, drought and other ecological problems have hurt the farmers in recent years.
The Bambara farmers also raise cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and chickens. The neighboring Fulani herdsmen are often trusted to herd the Bambara livestock. This allows the Bambara to concentrate on farming during the short rainy season.
Many of the Bambara hunt animals such as antelope, boar, ostrich, and guinea fowl for their meat and skins. They also gather a large amount of honey from the wild bees in the area.
Both men and women share the farming duties. However, the wives usually arrive in the fields later and leave earlier than the men. This gives them time to prepare the morning and evening meals. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 also help with the family's work, leading the oxen as they plow and guarding them during rest periods.
Each Bambara village is made up of many different households, usually all from one lineage or extended family. Every household, or gwa, is responsible to provide for all of its members, as well as to help them with their farming duties. Bambara homes are typically larger than the homes of most other West African groups. Some of the houses contain as many as 60 or more family members. The members of each gwa work together every day except for Mondays. Monday is market day and the traditional day of rest.
Islamic schools have been set up in some of the Bambara villages. However, many of the non-Muslim villages have failed to establish schools simply because the children are needed to stay home and help with the farming. For this reason, some village populations are entirely illiterate.
Marriage is very important to the Bambara. Although the cost of marriage is high, it is viewed as a type of "investment." The main purpose for marriage is to have children, which provide the family's labor force and ensure the future of the family lineage. The average Bambara woman has eight children. All adults are married. Even elderly widows in their 70s or 80s have suitors because the Bambara believe that a wife increases a man's prestige.
What are their beliefs? Although most Bambara claim to be Muslim, many still follow their traditional beliefs such as ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance). The Bambara believe that the ancestral spirits may take on the forms of animals or even vegetables. In special ceremonies, the spirits are worshipped and presented with offerings of flour and water. The eldest member of a lineage acts as the "mediator" between the living and the dead.
What are their needs? Prayer is the key to tearing down the many remaining strongholds that are keeping them from knowing the Truth. Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life".
Prayer Points Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies currently focusing on the Bambara.
Pray that God will raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Mali through intercession.
Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Bambara.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will complete the work begun in the hearts of the Bambara believers through adequate discipleship.
Pray that God will give the Bambara believers boldness to share the love of Jesus with their own people.
Ask the Lord to raise strong local churches among the Bambara.