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Sanankuya (also sanankou(n)ya, sinankun, senenkun,[1] senankuya[2]) refers to a social characteristic present especially among the Mande peoples of Mali, Guinea and Gambia as well as many West African societies in general, often described in English with terms such as "cousinage" or "joking relationship".

In addition to sanankuya relationships that are pre-established between certain ethnic or professional clans, a sanankuya relationship can also be established between any two willing participants who have "broken the ice". Those in a sanankuya relationship may treat one another as if cousins or close family members with whom familiar jokes or humorous insults are exchanged. It is considered an essential element of Mande/West African society/and was reputedly ordained as a civic duty in the Kurukan Fuga, the oral Constitution of the Mali Empire, by Sundiata Keita in c. 1236.

The effects of the complex and longstanding custom on West African society may also be seen surviving in African-American culture in such cultural institutions as "the Dozens", as well as the custom of non-blood relatives according each other the status of familial relationships ("play" aunts, cousins, etc.).

For an example, the Traoré and Koné clans each maintain a sanankuya relationship with the others' members, and one of the biggest running jokes is that each clan will accuse the other of loving to eat beans the most.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McNaughton, Patrick: A Bird Dance near Saturday City: Sidi Ballo and the art of West African masquerade, 2008, p. 88ff.
  2. ^ Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali, p. 246.
  3. ^ McNaughton, p. 90.