On this Saturday morning, we planned a few hours to take Matt and Norbert around Bamako with our friend, Anounou, as our tour guide. This is Matt’s first time in Mali and we wanted to give him a feel of what life is like here.
Our first stop was the city cemetery. Because we had Anounou with us, he was able to talk to the keeper of the cemetery and he let us go into this sacred Muslim place. He taught us about how the burials take place here. We had originally planned to visit a different cemetery but Anounou said that one wasn’t safe–it was a place people sneak into at night and dig up bodies to take body parts and organs to sell for black magic.
This cemetery was huge. It’s all rock and dirt and the graves are not really marked very well. Sometimes the family will post a small sign that says “ici repose” (here lies) with a name and maybe a date on it.
Burials have to take place within 24 hours of the death. The body is not embalmed. They wrap the body in 3 pieces of cloth–one for the head, one for the body and one for the legs, then the body is put into the grave. Then the body is covered with a row of mud bricks before filling the grave with dirt (no boxes or coffins). The mud bricks are made right outside the cemetery walls–there were some men working to make them with sand, mud, straw and water. Here are some photos of how the bricks are placed over the body and how the bricks are made just outside the cemetery:
After 6 months, the keeper of the cemetery said that all that’s left of the body is the skull and the big arm and leg bones. The rest is all gone and they can bury a second body in the same grave. Families use the same graves if needed. There were no rows or order to the cemetery. If there’s an empty space, this keeper says you can use it. Families dig their own graves and fill them.
Some of the graves had a cement outline or a low tiled area like an open box above the ground around the grave (grave marker). Some of these grave marker boxes were filled with rocks, some with dirt. None were sealed or cemented over. All were accessible to the grave so taking a body out would be easy for a grave robber. No one guards the cemeteries at night. Anounou said the keeper at that other cemetery is in cahoots with the grave robbers– they probably give him some money to let them steal the body parts.
I kept thinking of the song about Ezekiel’ dream: “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. . . .” and wondered about places like this on resurrection morning. I also thought about Find and Grave and Billion Graves and all the information that is missing or unknown in places like this. The keeper said he started writing down the names of the people being buried here just a year ago. Until then, NO records were kept. Oh my. It made my Family History heart sad.
This is not a record keeping culture. Anounou’s father died and is buried in Liberia. He said his mother is buried in that other cemetery, but he said he wouldn’t even know how to find her grave today.
The keeper said they had one family preparing for a burial today–we could see them off a ways. He said there were 4 burials yesterday. This cemetery is owned by the city. It looked really full–there wasn’t much room between the graves and no empty spaces. The graves aren’t decorated. That’s against the religion. Just cement, stone, dirt, tile and some hand painted signs with names for some. We didn’t see anyone there visiting a grave. I get the feeling they don’t do much of that. It was all really very interesting.
These mounds of rocks are also graves:
The keeper said he is not paid to watch over the cemetery, he just does it. I noticed this donation box by the entrance. It was all I could do to not photograph and preserve what information we saw on some of the graves. The angels in heaven will have to help us do that someday.