I was lucky enough to visit Mali last year, and have been watching the news about the rebels and the coup with a breaking heart.
For those of you that haven’t been following (which would have probably been me if I hadn’t been there) here’s a quick summary of current events (as I understand them): one of the tribes in Mali is the Tuaregs, that lives mostly in the north in the Sahara desert. The Tuaregs also live in other countries in that region, notably Libya, where they were armed. After the events in Libya, when they came back to Mali with their weapons, the Tuareg rebels wanted to declare a separate state for the Tuareg populated areas. The Mali army was fighting the rebels, and was frustrated with the President for not giving them the support they needed to be successful in their efforts. So, the army staged a coup. While the military was distracted with the coup, the rebels made significant advances, and ended up controlling most of the north of the country. The West African nations got involved and facilitated the return to civilian rule, which has been a bit shaky. There remains concern that northern Mali could be a hotbed of jihadist activity, and the Western African leaders have urged the interim government to request international military aid.
My heart is breaking for all the people I met, especially the guides and drivers I got to know personally and grew close to. And, my heart is breaking for the sites, especially Timbuktu and the thousands of rare Islamic texts housed there.
I met people from 4 of the 8 tribes in Mali.
The Tuareg are the Saharan desert traders, known as the blue people because of their bright blue scarf set off against their black robes.
The Fulani are the Malian cowboys. The men are herders and the women sell the milk. The men wear these conical hats that remind me of something you’d see in rural china, and the women have black tattooed around their lips.
The Bozo are the fisherman, and live on the banks of the rivers.
The Dogon are farmers, and live where an ancient tribe, the Tellem, used to live. The Tellem were a tiny cliff dwelling hunting/gathering people. It is thought they may be the ancestors of the Pygmy people. The Dogon inhabit old Tellem villages, and use the old caves as burial sights. They are animistic, and have a rich set of rituals.
I have hundreds of photos of these tribes, and it is just heartbreaking to look through them. Not only do I worry about their wellbeing in the face of the conflict, but on a broader scale, many of the people I met depended on tourism for survival. Now that there are no longer tourists visiting, I literally can’t imagine what they are doing.