Maribous, Angels, and the 27th day of Ramadan

According to Islam practices here in Mali the 27th day of Ramadan (which was June 29th) is an especially holy day of the sacred month. Muslims believe that on the night of the 27th day of Ramadan blessings and mercy are abundant, sins are more easily forgiven, and that angels descend to earth with their missions to protect and guide people.

Maribous are a respected traditional role in Malian Islam. These are people who are believed to have the capacity to communicate with the angels and ancestors on behalf of living family members and to wield powers to advise and guide people. In my head I have equated them with psychics who know history.

I am a pretty open minded person when it comes to religion. I don’t really get upset about another person’s belief if they don’t try to convert me to their way of thinking – no matter how illogical it may seem (with the exception of scientology because South Park explains that debaucle very clearly). So when my neighbour tells me they are going to ask for guidance from a respected Maribou in their life I simply nod and hope that they find the answers they are looking for.

What is infuriating though, is the way that some other people take advantage of the situation. There are celebrated Maribous who use their power of influence in ways that will ultimately help them line their pocket at a later date – because a date with the Maribou is never free. While I watched as people went to consult their trusted family Maribou’s I was not overly alarmed. When I heard about a traveling Maribou who was affecting planting traditions in some of our villages I was beyond angry. A travelling Maribou came to a village and told everyone that if they planted before July 15th they would have no harvest and their plants would all die. So these struggling subsistence farmers headed their advise and refuse to plant until after that date. It’s not inherently wrong to give agricultural advise if you are informed on the topic. But if you are just saying arbitrary dates so that the community needs to come seek out the answer or penitent action to undo the sin of planting too soon in an attempt to money grab I can’t stand by that.

We all have a circle of influence and the religious leaders of Islam in Mali have a unique position to vastly influence the everyday actions and cultural adaptations. I long to see the day when their power of influence is used for good to encourage equal rights, economic empowerment, and stop taking advantage of the little guys to earn a little more.


**Please note that these reflections are directed to the number of religious leaders who are taking advantage of their position and not my general sentiments towards all religious leaders here in Mali. Additionally, it is important to note that many religious leaders stand against these types of deceptive people and do in fact care greatly for the overall development of their congregations.



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