Department of History & School of History, Religions and Philosophies

Changing awareness of internal slavery in Mali

Research conducted by Dr Marie Rodet has raised awareness of the history of internal slavery in Mali. Through oral history, it enabled the transmission to new generations of a history at risk of being forgotten, and exposed enduring discrimination against populations with ascribed status as descendants of formerly enslaved.

The research project has helped community members and school children in Mali to grapple with this history through film screenings, songs, dance and eloquence competitions. The research also gave anti-slavery activists the tools to restart work on criminalising descent-based slavery in Mali. The research also led to a US asylum case being decided in favour of the Malian claimant.

NGO project in Mali
Hawa Sakiliba telling the story of the village foundation at the primary school in Bouillagui, Mali. Photo by Moussa Kalapo.

Dr Rodet’s research has focused on the mostly orally transmitted cultural heritage of formerly enslaved populations in Kayes and how, once they obtained their freedom, they managed to form independent communities in Mali.

After having collected more than 150 testimonies about the history of slavery by descendants of formerly enslaved populations from 2008 to 2009, in 2010 communities started to directly tell their history. The result was a 23-minute documentary, The Diambourou, which was released in 2014.

Collecting and examining of the specific history of rebel villages in the Kayes region has revealed how formerly enslaved populations managed to rebuild autonomous communities and social networks, and thus to overcome legacies of slavery through the remembering of self-liberation on their own terms.

Teaching and awareness tools have been produced and prolonged in the form of a web documentary entitled Bouillagui – A Free Village. The web documentary was screened in Bouillagui in November 2020 and is being used internationally as a teaching tool at the university level.

Dr Rodet’s research, with the support of the Malian NGO Donkosira, has benefited communities in Mali by providing new tools to anti-slavery activists, creating teaching tools, influencing the outcome of an asylum case in the US and raising awareness of the history of internal slavery in Mali and internationally.

Marie Rodet speaking at the NGO project in Mali
Dr Marie Rodet and Mariam Coulibaly, member of project partner NGO Donkosira, discussing project activities for schoolchildren with Waly Traoré, Bouillagui primary school teacher, Mali. Photo by Moussa Kalapo.