Food & Daily life

Life for women in Mali

Most of the population lives in the southern half of the country, in the southwest and along the River Niger. Here, communities are often rural and made up of small settlements of houses with mud walls and thatched roofs.Mother cooking with child

Family and community bonds are extremely important, because life can be hard. Women particularly work long hours. As well as looking after the home and children, they also take on daily chores such as collecting wood/water and taking produce to market.

But though women bear the brunt of the workload, they are held in high regard. Women are always consulted, particularly in community decisions, where they symbolise peace and harmony.

Even when they’re working, Malian women take a great pride in their appearance. Many wear the traditional robe dress – a boubou – in richly patterned materials and with matching headwear. Sometimes the designs are traditional, but some have modern motifs such as pictures of Barak Obama or the HIV/AIDS ribbon.

  • Ladies in boubous
  • Washing clothes
  • Kola nuts

The kola nut

When decisions need to be made, the chief or elder of a village is usually involved. People often take kola nuts as gifts and a sign of respect. Malians may also greet a new person with a kola nut.

What are kola nuts? These are the size of a conker, though not so even in shape. When broken along their seam, the flesh is mauve inside. Bitter to chew, the nuts act as a mild stimulant (containing caffeine) and leave a buzz on the tongue. Sold in the street or in markets, they are also used to keep hunger at bay. Watch the video of a visit to the local market where kola nuts are being sold.

In some villages, a young man will take three kolas to his prospective father-in-law when asking for a girl’s hand in marriage. Ten kolas might be expected to ‘seal the deal’ and a basket of nuts is presented on the marriage. 

Malian food and drink

Fishy facts

The most popular catch from the River Niger is the capitaine fish, which is grilled or barbecued over an open fire. Tinani (small fish similar to whitebait) are also popular.

Malian dishes vary from region to region, but the staples are normally rice, millet, sorghum and fonio (a fine-grained cereal found in Africa). These are served with sauces of fish, meat or vegetables. Grains are often used to make porridges; for example, many Malian’s eat bouille for breakfast, a sweet milk and cereal dish which is a little like runny rice pudding.

To drink, djablani is a local speciality. This is a juice made from hibiscus, ginger or the fruit of the baobab tree. Juice is often sold in polythene bags.

Despite being an Islamic country, alcohol is not prohibited and many Malians drink millet beer.