Bitòn Coulibaly

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Grave of Biton Mamary Coulibaly (1712-1755), near Ségou, Mali.

Bitòn Coulibaly (also Mamary Coulibaly, 1689?–1755) founded the Bambara Empire in what is now Mali's Ségou Region and Mopti Region.

Great-grandson of former Ségou king Kaladian Coulibaly, Mamary Coulibaly settled in Ségou in his youth and soon became head of the Tòn, a voluntary organization for young men, taking the title of "Bitòn." Under Coulibaly's leadership, the Tòn transformed from an egalitarian society into an army of "Tondions." Prompted by popular up rise against the king of Ségou, the populace suggested he take over the leadership of the Bambara kingdom. Coulibaly quickly subdued rival chiefs of Ségou through a vote a cloture of the Chiefs and used the city as a capital for his new Bambara Empire.

Fortifying himself with defensive techniques from the Songhai tradition, Coulibaly created a thousand-man army and a navy of war canoes to patrol the Niger River, staffing both with men already captured in his conquests. Coulibaly then proceeded to launch successful assaults against his neighbors, the Fulani, the Soninke, and the Mossi; he also attacked Tomboctou, though he held the city only briefly. During this time he also founded the city of Bla as an outpost and armory.

Coulibaly's new empire thrived on trade with the Berber to the north due to the Islamic influence, including that of local slaves captured in its many wars. The slaves were drafted in the army, used for labor and or resold to African local traders to the south and west (not European Slave trade); the demand for slaves then fueled the empire on to further wars. Note: Slaves had the right to property and could win their way to nobility as Ngolo Diarra did.

Bitòn Coulibaly was succeeded by Dinkoro Coulibaly following his death in 1755 and Ali Coulibaly. However, the Coulibalys failed to keep control of the empire, and it fell into anarchy until Ngolo Diarra a slave or servant of Biton Coulibaly seized the throne in 1766.


  • Lilyan, Kesteloot L'EPOPÉE BAMBARA DE SÉGOU I and II, chez Nathan en 1972. Elle fut reprise par L'Harmattan en 1993 France
  • Davidson, Basil. Africa in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

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