Yesterday Mali celebrated its 51st year of independence (from France). Traditionally this day comes with festivities in several cities and villages.
Macina’s annual event on the 22nd of September is a pirogue race in which several communities stride for the ‘golden bowl’.
So, of we took in the morning, to cover the about 160 kilometers from Ségou to Macina, doing a stop in the lovely city of Sansanding on our way up.
Sansanding, located at the Niger riverside, is well taken care of by its inhabitants. The streets are clean, the riverbank is protected against the influences of the water by a decent wall, the people are friendly and the mosque at the riverbank is beautiful.
Even though Mungo Park spent several days in Sansanding, most of them in prison, on his second expedition in Mali, this historical aspect has not been used to turn it into a tourist destination. Nowhere in town I’ve seen anything that even mentions his name.
Sansanding is a very pleasant place for a stop and I felt sorry for not having taken a bit more time for the visit.
Arriving in Macina, we were warmly welcomed by the family we visited last November traveling to and from the Great Crossing. Chairs were instantly arranged and it didn’t take them 15 minutes to serve us a meal. Of course Ibrahim had notified them that we would be coming to Macina for the annual pirogue races. There was no need to rush through the meal, I was told, chairs had already been brought to the riverbank, assuring us ‘first row’ places as soon as the festivities would start.
Just after Mimi and I decided to go for a little stroll through town, dark clouds came rolling in, sand was flying through the air and some long wished for rain fell down.
Luckily – this time – it didn’t last for long. The rain stopped, the wind had taken the sand to its next destination and Macina went back to its expectant state. Crowds once more filled the streets, sales women were doing good business selling their home made snacks and drinks and the riverbank was hosting a colorful mixture of all the communities participating in the race and spectators. It was literally black with people, no other white people to be seen.
The first boats passed by, on their way to the starting point, the crowds cheered and peace returned when the boats were out of sight. Children played, people waited patiently, and all in a sudden they became restless as if they felt the boats were getting closer. It didn’t take another minute before they arrived. The boatmen peddled in a fast rhythm, half of them sitting, half of them standing, making their boats go as fast as possible. People were cheering and shouting for joy, no more able to sit still and community names were filling the air.
The boat that had taken the lead was way ahead of the numbers two and three just until they had to round for the last time. Making too long a curve, number two and three instantly took advantage getting on the same level and passing by. While the voices of the previous cheerers disappointedly faded away, the others took over. The winners of the golden bowl were already making their winner’s tour, passing by one more time, when the last boat was still on its way to the finish.
On the way back to Ségou, in a comfortable car, driven by an excellent driver, I was re-enjoying all the impressions of the day.
Sansanding and Macina, I sure hope to be back next year!
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