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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Building Skills and INNOVATION

For apprentices and masons alike, the building sites are dynamic learning environments. Here technical know-how is fused with practical education in business skills and working with clients with respect and a mastery of spiritual forces.

As Salif Droufo says, “The good quality in a mason is to have the blessing of your master. If you have that blessing with you, you will always be a mason of good quality. If a young mason isn’t respectful toward his master, everything he does is bound to fail.”

Mud mason building a wall

Mud mason building a wall (click photo to enlarge)

A building site

A building site (click photo to enlarge).




Living in THE PAST


Living in a city with such deep history, Djenné's citizens struggle to protect their heritage without sacrificing living standards. Strict conservation rules have kept residents from altering their homes, but interest in using luxury industrial materials like corrugated metal doors, Portland cement, paint and glazed ceramic tiles is growing and threatens to alter the city’s architectural character.

Successful masons see tradition as a resource rather than a static code of rules. This allows the building practices to retain contemporary significance for both the town’s residents and a growing global audience.

As Almamy Kouroumanse says, “We can have modern things in Djenné, but at the same time we cannot abandon what our parents have done.”

Tiles and Balustrade

Tiles and Balustrade (click photo to enlarge)

A new house with tiles

A new house with tiles (click photo to enlarge).




Challenges to Preserving the MUD ARCHITECTURE


Over the past several decades, poverty, drought, and dwindling local building materials have threatened the mud architecture and make preservation more difficult. Stagnant pools of waste water in narrow streets weaken house foundations and pose serious health risks. Garbage dumps at the edge of town contain thousands of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Following the recent political upheaval in Mali in 2012, tourism to Djenné all but collapsed and this has hit the local economy very hard. Money to maintain the historic houses and there is little new construction which means less work for Djenné’s masons. The hope is that with the 2013 elections, the country will return to democratic rule and again enter into a period of stability and economic growth.

Boats on top of a riverbed dried by drought.

Boats on top of a riverbed dried by drought. (click photo to enlarge)

Waste water flowing in open gutters down a street

Waste water flowing in open gutters down a street (click photo to enlarge).


Waste water flowing in open gutters down a street

Tourists entering through the Djenné town gage (click photo to enlarge).


Where is Djenné?

Map of Africa

View a map of where the city of Djenné is located in Africa.

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