Amadou Hampâté Bâ

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Amadou Hampâté Bâ (January or February 1901 – May 15, 1991) was a Malian writer and ethnologist.


Amadou Hampâté Bâ was born to an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon territory and the capital of the precolonial Masina Empire. At the time of his birth, the area was known as French Sudan as part of colonial French West Africa, which was formally established a few years before his birth. After his father's death, he was adopted by his mother's second husband, Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam of the Toucouleur ethnic group. He first attended the Qur'anic school run by Tierno Bokar, a dignitary of the Tijaniyyah brotherhood, then transferred to a French school at Bandiagara, then to one at Djenné. In 1915, he ran away from school and rejoined his mother at Kati, where he resumed his studies.

In 1921, he turned down entry into the école normale in Gorée. As a punishment, the governor appointed him to Ouagadougou with the role he later described as that of "an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer". From 1922 to 1932, he held several posts in the colonial administration in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and from 1932 to 1942 in Bamako. In 1933, he took six months' leave to visit Tierno Bokar, his spiritual leader. (See also:Sufi studies)

In 1942, he was appointed to the Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (IFAN — the French Institute of Black Africa) in Dakar, thanks to the benevolence of Théodore Monod, its director. At IFAN, he made ethnological surveys and collected traditions. For 15 years he devoted himself to research, which would later lead to the publication of his work L'Empire peul de Macina (The Fula Empire of Macina). In 1951, he obtained a UNESCO grant, enabling him to travel to Paris and meet with intellectuals from Africanist circles, notably Marcel Griaule.

With Mali's independence in 1960, Bâ founded the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako, and represented his country at the UNESCO general conferences. In 1962, he was elected to UNESCO's executive council, and in 1966 he helped establish a unified system for the transcription of African languages.

His term in the executive council ended in 1970, and he devoted the remaining years of his life to research and writing. In 1971, he moved to the Marcory suburb of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire,[1] and worked on classifying the archives of West African oral tradition that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime, as well as writing his memoirs (Amkoullel l'enfant peul and Oui mon commandant!, both published posthumously). He died in Abidjan in 1991.


(translated into English and published as A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar, Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2008)


  • 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.
  • Les peuples de race noire n'étant pas des peuples d'écriture ont développé l'art de la parole d'une manière toute spéciale. Pour n'être pas écrite, leur littérature n'en est pas moins belle. Combien de poèmes, d'épopées, de récits historiques et chevaleresques, de contes didactiques, de mythes et de légendes au verbe admirable se sont ainsi transmis à travers les siècles, fidèlement portés par la mémoire prodigieuse des hommes de l'oralité, passionnément épris de beau langage et presque tous poètes ! 1985. — "The people of Black race, as they are not peoples [with a tradition of written literature], have developed the art of speech in a most special manner. While it is not written, their literature is not less beautiful. How many poems, epics, historic and chilvalrous narratives, didatic tales, myths and legends of egregious [literary style] have so been transmitted through centuries, carried by the prodigious memory of the men with an [oral tradition's], passionately in love with beautiful language and almost all poets."
  • 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."
  • Si tu sais que tu ne sais pas, alors tu sauras. — "If you know that you do not know, then you will know."


  1. ^ Hawkins, Peter. "Amadou Hampaté Ba". French Literature Companion. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 

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