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Biography of Amadou Hampaté Bâ

Mali > Literature : Amadou Hampaté Bâ

Amadou Hampaté Bâ
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Biography :

Amadou Hampaté Bâ. (1901-1991) was a Malian  writer and ethnologist.

The work of Hampâté Ba, as he is usually called, is central in West African writing. As a historian, a theologian, an ethnographer, a novelist and autobiographer, as well as a linguist and an ambassador, he has been present on all fronts of cultural development in the second half of the century. Born in Bandiagara, Mali to a pre-eminent Fula Muslim family he was trained in a francophone primary school and became a junior clerk in colonial administration. At the same time he completed his Muslim upbringing by following the teachings of Tierno Bokar, a Muslim mystical master. He became involved in collecting texts for historical and ethnographic research when he was seconded to IFAN, the French colonial research institute based in Dakar, with branches all over West Africa. His first publications are joint works with colonial historians and ethnographers; in the 1960s his stature rose as he became Director of the new Malian Institute for Research in Human Sciences and an Ambassador to UNESCO. He is credited with coining the now famous phrase: 'the death of an old man is like the burning of a library' in praise of both old age and oral tradition. He produced a series of texts in Fula, edited, transcribed and translated with fellow scholars (Koumen, 1961 with Germaine Dieterlen; Kaîdara, 1968, with Lilyan Kesteloot) and himself authored some of the classic mystical stories (Njeddo Dewal, 1985). His work as a guardian of oral tradition became well known, but he was at the same time, paradoxically, a Muslim scholar trying to bridge the gap between cultures.

His only novel L'Etrange destin de Wangrin (1973; trans. The Fortunes of Wangrin, 1999) is a masterpiece of picaresque humour. It narrates in a vivid language the adventures of an interpreter who is a crook and embodies much of the ambiguous position of many African middlemen in the first half of the century.

In his later years he retired to Abidjan, concentrating on Muslim teaching, preaching an open minded Islam, in dialogue with the world, Christianity and African religions. At the same time he prepared an autobiography, Amkoullel, l'enfant peul (1991) which has become a bestseller because of his combination of authentic ethnographic knowledge with a gentle humour and unrelenting ener


L'Empire peul du Macina (The Fula Empire of Macina, 1955, new edition in 1984)
Vie en enseignement de Tierno Bokar, le sage de Bandiagara (The Life and Education of Tierno Bokar, the Sage of Bandiagara, 1957, rewritten in 1980)
Kaïdara, récit initiatique peul (Kaïdara, a Fula initiation tale1969)
L'étrange destin du Wangrin (The Strange Destiny of Wangrin, 1973, grand prix de littérature d’Afrique noire 1974)
L'Éclat de la grande étoile (The Brightness of the Great Star, 1974)
Jésus vu par un musulman (Jesus, as Viewed by a Muslim, 1976)
Petit Bodiel (conte peul) et version en prose de Kaïdara (Little Bodiel (a Fula tale) and a prose version of Kaïdara, 1977)
Njeddo Dewal mère de la calamité (Njeddo Dewal, Mother of Calamity, 1985, Peul fantasy tale)
La poignée de poussière, contes et récits du Mali (A Handful of Dust, Malian Stories, 1987)
Amkoullel, l'enfant peul (Amkoullel, the Fula Child, 1991, the first part of his memoir) and Oui mon commandant! (Yes, My Commander, 1994, the second part of his memoir) were published posthumously


En Afrique, quand un vieillard meurt, c’est une bibliothèque qui brûle. — "In Africa, when an old man dies, it's a library burning." 1960 at l'UNESCO.

"Je suis un diplômé de la grande université de la Parole enseignée à l’ombre des baobabs. — "I graduated from the great university of the Spoken Word taught in the shade of baobab trees."

Last update : 06/29/2007

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