The most fascinating, and famous, thing to do in Djenne is to check out the mud structures. These massive buildings were constructed with only basic earth materials such as mud and clay. They did not use any "solid" materials such as metal or even stone to build or support them. It's quite impressive and also beautiful!
Finding a guide speaking english in a francophone country like Mali is rare though due to the increasing number of non french speaking tourists some local guides try their best to learn some english.
We were lucky enough that Alhousseiny Sininta, a local guide from Djenne speaks adequate english, enough to show you around for a 2 hours guidetour in Djenne's old city. He found us just at the river crossing before Djenne and we agreed a price of 10,000CFA (15€) for showing us around. He made interesting comments and gave a lot of information about the structure and the architecture of old Djenne and at the end we were quite happy with his services. We even met his family members. Recommended.
The villages contrast quite radically in traditional practices. In a Muslim village, the women covered their hair and were quite modest in their dress. In another village, the women were topless and basically unashamed of their beautiful black skin. Regardless of gender or cultural practice, the exposure of genitalia is not to be found, except among infants and very young children, however. While some naivete certainly played into the attitudes about exposure of the breasts by some younger women, those of marriage age we were more often proud of exposing their bodies as a matter of vanity. Older women with sagging skin were more often matter of fact in their attitudes, sometimes simply not bothering to cover up in these high temperatures. Morale judgement about exposure of the body thus appeared to me to be a product of the Muslim and Christian influence. Regardless of tribe, men were more uniform in their attire. Younger men wore pants, occasonionally short pants, and T-shirts, while older men typically wrapped themselves in layers of fine white cotton fabrics that announced their status and seniority.
The stunning costumery that market goers wore impressed me a lot. I found both men and women in exotic tribal dress and others creatively using the castaway garments from American Good Will industries. Watching market place transactions, and the movement of animal pulled carts was pure entertainment in Djenne.
I should also note that contrary to popular belief among those who have not traveled here, the vast majority of the children and adults I found in the villages were happy, healthy, and fed a good diet. Tribal children were as energetic, happy, and healthy as I've ever seen anywhere in the world, despite their obvious lack of material wealth. Among older adults, the teeth and gums of many I had observed were healthier than I'm accustom to finding within the United States, and among working adults, the muscle tone and fitness was in many cases positively worthy of admiration by western standards. In this region, of course, there are many bacteriological health risks, which contribute to a much higher mortality rate among children in particular, but some of these risks are in turn balanced by a substantially lower accident rate. Injury from automobile wrecks, for example, is unheard of here, and few of the tools, other than ordinary knifes and simple flour milling machines, I saw being used were likely to be physically dangerous. I suspect that drug abuse and crime are low here, as family and community love all and easily reign in those misfits who may stray from social convention. While the lack of material wealth would bore me after even just one day, I still envied the great time available for sharing with me and for visiting with friends and family. Under these circumstances, it's difficult to pity the tribal West African. It really is a good life.
Taking portraits of tribal people is not easy because they misunderstand or mistrust the gadgetry of the camera, not knowing exactly what the tourist will do with their image. So, I took a portable printer to facilitate an exchange of gifts of sorts--a printed image for the subject for each good photo. With some practice I was able to capture genuine smiles in ways I find difficult among my own family. The tribal people are uninhibited given the chance, and so I present images here hoping that their genuine smiles will bring happiness to the viewer. I rarely paid my subjects, and my time was fleeting, so what I have here are the best images I can muster as a tourist.
Just walk, go with the flow. Talk with people, observe them, respect them and they will do the same with you. They are so nice people, like in whole Mali. Don't stay just in the center, walk in all the streets, get ,lost and forget time. Then you'll enjoy the city.
The largest mud building in the world, the Djenne Mosque needs to be maintained every year with a coat of mud plaster, which is applied during a ceremony. We weren't there in time for the ceremonial plastering, but I made every effort to capture images of the exterior from all angles. The interior of the Mosque is not open to non-Muslims, so we didn't push our luck to see if we could arrange a tour inside. But, having visited numerous other mud mosques, I know that the interior is no so grand as the exterior.
I had a shirt made from some fabric made at the market, but it is ill-fitting and I don't wear it often. So, most of the marketplace attraction is not the goods for sale, but rather the people selling them. I took images of the strange pile of dried fish and the huge calabashes, but mostly I looked for interesting images of people. The villagers dress up when coming to market.
I've discussed this elsewhere, but basically there are various tribal villages within a long walk outside of Djenne, which are easily visited with the help of a guide. It's best to visit them during an off market day when everyone is hanging around home. Some tribal villages are Muslim while others are Animist. Some villages earn their living by agriculture while others do so by fishing. All the villages are interesting.
Our guide found us eating at the restaurant, and I was tired and skeptical, but his pleasant and not-so-pushy manner sold me. I knew that I needed a guide for the Djenne Villages the next afternoon. Without a good guide, it's hard to find your way around outside the city walls. Also, it helps to have a scooter. Nothing fancy is needed, but something a little faster than walking will help. While my wife rested in the hotel, I jumped on the back of the scooter found by the guide and we took off. Bring some change to tip for the photos you take of villagers. The guide can help smooth over any cultural mistakes you make.
There is no other way to go to Djénné than to cross the Bani. Djénné is on a small island. During the dry season, you can cross at places where the water is not too deep. DUring the raining season, you definitively need to take the local ferry.
Djénné is a town made of banco. The mosk is the most beautifull and biggest building in Banco of the world.
Banco is made of earth and clay and demands a special technic known by the local masons from centuries.
This construction demands a lot of maintenance, and once a year all the masons of the town repair the final coat of the moask. If they don't, it will take less than three years for the weather to fully destroy the construction.
Note: it is not possible to go inside if you are not a Muslim
The wooden parts that you can see on top of all these buildings is left by the constructors for maintenance, in order to re-coat the top parts of the building.
Do you see my T-shirt?
It accompanies me all over the world and I only wear it front of one or two of the most beautiful things in the country I visit.
This way, I can say Arno( famous Belgian blues singer) has seen the most splendid monuments in the world although he doesn't know it up to now
I didn't know whether to put this under The Local Customs section or under The Animals section or under Must See Activties section.
Judge for yourself.
I found it quite amazing.
Was the man walking his dog (sorry, goat) or was he going to the market to sell it?
We'll never know.
One thing's for sure, in the evening I ate chicken...