Succesful restauration project in Djenné, Mali

June 2008 -

Multiple locations in Mali are included as important cultural heritage sites on the Unesco World Heritage list: ancient Timbuktu with its thousands of ancient Arab manuscripts; the Dogon region, known for its wooden sculptures, masks, doors and doorposts; Askia's fifteenth-century mausoleum, and Djenné. According to Bouboukar Kouroumansé, Djenné belongs on the list "because of the hundreds of archaeological finds, and the loam mosque dating from 1907 and monumental loam houses." Bouboukar is a master bricklayer. "At the age of 47, I am the youngest. Djenné's bricklayers' guild is known in all of West Africa."


Many of the loam houses were close to collapsing in the 1990s. The National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, which has been performing archaeological studies around Djenné for a long period of time, Dutch architect Pierre Maas, Bouboukar and a number of other master bricklayers came up with a proposal for a restoration project. The project is being funded by the Dutch Embassy in Bamako. Bouboukar: "We compiled a list of 160 houses in the city and a few of the neighbouring villages that we wanted to restore to their state in 1900. There are still pictures from that period. Some of the houses need wall reconstruction. Others required ceiling repairs. And sometimes we tore down the cement towers or other elements and reconstructed them with loam and palm poles. We have finished 115 already."

The restoration work was originally directed by the Mission Culturelle, until the bricklayers took over a while ago. "We created a business for that purpose that has the support of the bricklayers' guild, and Mission Culturelle only supervises. Not only did we restore old houses, but we also make sure the walls were repaired and patched after the rain season. We are also training young inhabitants of the city to become bricklayers. All in all, the project has generated a significant amount of employment." The project has progressed considerably, with many results. "The jobs to begin with. Moreover, because the loam architecture is an attraction, they have become an integral part of the municipal economy. This has made us a strong collective. We have also averted the danger of losing the art of Djenné bricklaying."