Over the weekend, thousands gathered in the World Heritage city of Djenné in Mali for the annual Grand mosque plastering ceremony.
The Great Mosque of Djenné is a large banco or adobe building that is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. The mosque is located in the city of Djenné, Mali, on the flood plain of the Bani River.
The plastering is done with banco, which is a mixture of sand, water, shea butter, rice bran and baobab powder to protect the mosque from bad weather before the rains set in.
The entire community of Djenné takes an active role in the mosque's maintenance via the unique annual festival. This includes music and food, but has the primary objective of repairing the damage inflicted on the mosque in the past year (mostly erosion caused by the annual rains and cracks caused by changes in temperature and humidity).
In the days leading up to the festival, the plaster is prepared in pits. It requires several days to cure but needs to be periodically stirred, a task usually falling to young boys who play in the mixture, thus stirring up the contents. Men climb onto the mosque's built-in scaffolding and ladders made of palm wood and smear the plaster over the face of the mosque.
Another group of men carries the plaster from the pits to the workmen on the mosque. A race is held at the beginning of the festival to see who will be the first to deliver the plaster to the mosque. Women and girls carry water to the pits before the festival and to the workmen on the mosque during it. Members of Djenné's masons guild direct the work, while elderly members of the community, who have already participated in the festival many times, sit in a place of honour in the market square watching the proceedings.
The mosque is of high cultural and religious significance in the city. The first mosque is recorded to have first been constructed in the 13th century. The current mosque was financed by the French and construction was finished in 1907 using forced labour under the direction of Ismaila Traoré, head of Dienné's guild of masons. From photographs taken at the time, it appears the position of at least some of the outer walls follows those of the original mosque but it is unclear as to whether the columns supporting the roof kept to the previous arrangement.
The city of Djenné in Central Mali has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 1988. But in 2016, it was placed on the list of World Heritage sites in danger due to insurgency by radical Islamists groups in Mali.
Header Image Credits: Papillon Reizen