Sanké Mô: Celebrating 624 Years of Tradition and Community in San, Mali

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Sanké Mô

The city of San in southeastern Mali hosts the 624th edition of the Sanké Mô, a traditional collective fishing ritual commemorating the city’s founding in 1400. This event, which also marks the beginning of the rainy season, attracts thousands of participants from neighboring villages and across Mali to the sacred Sanké pond. The ancient custom is not only a time for celebration but also an opportunity to showcase this endangered cultural heritage to Malians from other regions.

The Sanké Mô festivities began on Tuesday evening, with traditional Bobo dances performed during vigils on Wednesday, June 5th. The Bobo ethnic group, the majority in the area, traces its roots to the founder of San.

Zeina Sidibé, Marketing Project Director of the Walaha Group, expressed her awe at the spectacle and ambiance. Attending for the first time, she is accompanied by twenty young people from Bamako. Their mission is to explore and embrace the rich Malian culture.

“Malians do not know each other’s cultures and traditions. We are losing most of our cultural identities,” Sidibé remarked. “The younger generation is disinterested in traditional practices. Our program immerses young Malians in these cultural treasures, aiming to leverage our heritage for local development.”

Like Sidibé’s group, thousands of national tourists are present, eager to witness the start of the collective fishing event. In muddy waters, hundreds of participants will strive to catch as many fish as possible. According to local beliefs, a successful catch signifies good fortune and abundant future harvests.

Due to drought and the shrinking of the pond, the Sanké Mô has been listed by UNESCO as one of three Malian cultural elements requiring urgent safeguarding. UNESCO has allocated $100,000 to develop a plan for preserving this endangered intangible heritage.

Cissé Fatoumata Kouyaté, President of the Elders’ Bureau of the Carrefour for Development and Peace in Mali, traveled over 400 kilometers from Bamako to her hometown of San for the Sanké Mô. For her, returning annually is essential for preserving tradition and for mystical reasons.

“The Sanké Mô festival means a lot to me. It embodies the perpetuation of our culture and the authenticity of all who identify with San,” Kouyaté explained. “Growing up, we saw the people of San gather every year to celebrate Sanké in unity.”

As a ritualistic festival, it involves numerous sacrifices. “These sacrifices are meant to ward off all the city’s ailments and challenges. If accepted, we are granted permission to proceed with the collective fishing, which is believed to dispel all misfortunes from the city,” she added.

The Sanké Mô is more than a celebration; it is a testament to the resilience and unity of the people of San, a vibrant showcase of Mali’s rich cultural tapestry.


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