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"The Niamakala and his N'goni"


Djèli Baba is the father of a numerous family. Here he is pictured in the courtyard of his Quizembougou house, surrounded by his family.


Malinet: Father, who are you?

Djèli Baba: Ha! I am Djèli Baba, our djèliya, who are now called djèli, in the past were called Niamakala. If you are a Djèli you are first and foremost a Niamakala.

Malinet: What does it mean to be a Niamakala amongst us?

Djèli Baba: It means uniting people so that they understand one another. Binding them, what does bamanan means in our language? 
In current language, very simply (niamma I kA U kala = help me to stitch them together). To speak so that people can understand, so there is no dispute. That's what Niamakala means. Djèli…anyone who asks or looks for charity is called djèli, but not everybody can be Niamakala.

Malinet: What else does Niamakala mean?

Djeli Baba: When there is a dispute between two people, Niamakala intervenes to end the argument. 
When husband and wife argue Niamakala intervenes to end the argument and the marriage becomes happy again. When a father and his sons fight, we intervene to bring them to peace again and the bond between father and children is consolidated. When a mother and her daughter argue, we intervene to put a stop to it and their bond reforms. When two relatives fight, the Namakala intervenes to end the argument and the relationship strengthens. When two neighbours fight, we intervene to put a stop to it and coexistence improves. When two villages are in conflict, we seek out the Niamakala of the two villages in dispute. We intervene to put a stop to it, and the comprehension between these two villages returns.

We are called Niamakala.

We intervene to put a stop to disputes: this is what has been transformed and is now called Djeliya Djèli. It is no more than this. All those who continue this tradition are called djèli.

Malinet: How did Djèliya start?

Djèli Baba: Djeliya started with the Niamakalaya. We call those who sing "djèli". All those who ask for charity, even if they do not speak, are already djeli.
The passage from being a djèli to becoming a djèliya is possible for anyone.

The Traore can do this.

The Keita can do this.

For us, anyone who talks a lot or who sings is called a djèli.

Djèliya and Niamakala are two different acts. The djeli asks for charity, but not the Niamakala.

I am a Niamakala, I am Djèli Baba. I do not travel through the country and amongst people to ask for charity. If I am called out for a task I will go and perform that task. They call us Niamakala and we survive from this activity recognised by society.

Malinet: Are there family names at the origin of the Niamakala?

Djèli Baba: The names that are at the origin of the Niamakala, are rare, very rare, although they can be found in all races. Niamakala means uniting people so that they can understand one another better and reconciling those involved in controversies.

The djèli praise all, sing for all and ask for payment in money. I am Djèli Baba and I live in this town, Bamako: here they call me Djèni Baba, I am not a djèli - I tell tales or facts to please people. I play the N’Goni (a kind of guitar), I tell tales or facts, they call us Niamakala. We visit great men, respected people, those who have always known how to reconcile nations. Talking to bring reconciliation between people, this is Niamakalaya. The djèli is a derivation of the Niamakala, djèliya is not a privilege, it is a race, anyone can become a djèli.

Malinet: Where do you come from?

Djèli Baba: I am Djèli Baba, I came from Nioro, my village is Djoumara: about 70 years ago. I came as a young man from Bamako, I married here and had children. Nioro is a town in Mali: it is my capital. I was born in Sanamkoro-Djoumara. There are many kinds of Niamakala, there are blacksmiths, cobblers, etc…  A cobbler works with leather, a blacksmith works with iron, the Niamakala arrange weddings for nobility, takes the bride to her new family, asks the members of that family to consider her one of their own. This is our work. I am at ORTM, I talk on the radio every Monday evening. There are many kinds of Niamakala, there are blacksmiths, cobblers … They do not ask for charity. Sometimes some of them do and they return to the ranks of the Djèli, they lose the status of Niamakala, as intended by the previous definition. Today I am here, I greet everyone, whether white or black, I want everyone to be united because we all come from the same mother and father, Adam and Eve. White is not better than black, and black is not better than white. We have the same soul, the same blood. I greet everyone, whether their skin is black or white. I want to add that one is born a Niamakala. I, Djèli Baba, inherited this from my father, who inherited it from his and from our ancestors. When a father has good work and you carry it on, you have followed the blood line. Our bloodline. The reason of our Niamakalaya.