The Rhythm of Life: the Miniankan Culture of Mali

The Rhythm of Life: the Miniankan Culture of Mali

During my time as a graduate student, I learned of the beautiful culture of the Minianka of Mali, where everything centers around drumming, rhythm and dance. Rhythmic styles are literally interwoven into every task and every part of the day. From fishing to washing clothing to the village blacksmiths, each occupation holds it own rhythm. Author, Yaya Diallo describes that, “Whey they dance, their movements express the activities of daily life.” No two trades share the same rhythm or dance. One example Diallo relays is that of the blacksmith. Initially, the boy who controls the bellows starts the rhythm much like the motion of an accordionist, and then the smith keeps tempo as he strikes the anvil. Percussion is thought to inject a verve into the villagers as they perform their daily duties.

Music holds an impressive court for the Miniakan and connects them to their ancestors, the spirits, and ultimately to their Creator. Musicians are held in the highest esteem and play some of the most central roles in the community as they help to unite, heal and bestow wisdom to the people. Dance circles are held routinely, and during these the musicians play rhythms that match the occupation of the dancer, and also use this as a way determine the level of their health. For example, if the musicians notice that a farmer is dancing like a hunter this alerts them that there is an imbalance in the farmer. The spirits give rise to specific characteristics that provide insight into the malady currently inhabiting the villager. When such imbalances are detected, the musicians respond with a high sensitivity to help restore balance in the person.

If the imbalance persists, greater measures are taken such as herbs and other specialized treatments are added to the music healing. Which leads us to one of the most profound and sublime facets of Miniankan culture. When a member of the community is sick, the entire community is thought to be out of balance and they work together to bring the group back into balance. When I first learned of this, it struck me still and gave me a deep sense of a truer meaning of humanity. In fact, the Miniankans are known as, “those who refuse the master.” This refers to the fact that there is no central figure in the culture. Each person holds a careful role in the overall equilibrium of the group. They are like a single organism that relies on a deep harmony to permeate and unify the village.

This is a noble example of genuine community and deep connection. I have often wondered if more of us might be able to adopt notions like this. Even if only at the family level, there would be a benefit and deeper sense of self felt through the holistic web of the group. It will never be too late for us to entrain the rhythms of our communities and weave a stronger familial tapestry amongst them. Biorhythms would take on a new meaning, and wealth could then be measured by the health of a community. If you have the opportunity for music to generate a tighter bond in your relationships, by all means let it guide you and become your social adhesion. Though invisible, music manifests a limitless strength and purpose to those who feel and believe in its capacity. If not for music, I’m not sure how I would find meaning nor place in this world. So, let the rhythm be your guide and let us dance toward a lighter day.

For Reference and Further Reading
The Healing Drum: African Wisdom Teaching [Google Books]