[Mansa-l] Malinke/Maninka

Lamp, Frederick frederick.lamp at yale.edu
Tue Oct 21 14:16:06 CDT 2008


"Could I ask a dumb question?" the MANSA scholar said, timidly, after seven rounds of palm wine.  "What's the name of those people we study?"

Europeans say Manding when the Americans say Mande, and the Americans say Manding when the Europeans say Mande.  The French say Bambara, the Americans say Bamana.  We never did resolve any of that, some asserting that one is pejorative, and then our foremost linguist informing us that both are pejorative and have the same root.

Now the question has arisen among some of us as to what to call the Malinke, or is it Maninka?  Linguists identify Maninka as a language in Haute Guinée and southwestern Mali.  Malinké is commonly used in both areas to indicate the culture or ethnic group, and it appears on all existing maps I've found on Guinea including the official maps [See for example the Atlas Scholaire de la Guinée, 2002, published by the Ministere de l'Education Pre-Universitaire].  We know of several cases in Africa where different terms are used for language and culture (e.g. Akan/Twi).  Is this proper in the case of Malinké/Maninka?  Ethnologue cannot answer this question because it is focused on languages, not culture. Language is easier to identify than culture because it can be quantified whereas culture cannot, so many scholars just opt for using the linguistic term.  Culture and ethnic identity sometimes transcend linguistic borders or can be extremely localized -- it's much messier, some would say vague.  The question of "what do the people call themselves" may be irrelevant because generally peoples don't give themselves names -- other people do (The Dutch don't call themselves Dutch but were given the name by the English, who couldn't pronounce Deutsch, a name the Dutch rejected anyway in favor of another name probably dismissively given to them by the Deutschen).  In the literature, even up to the present, Malinke and Maninka are often confused by our own experts.  If MANSA can't decide who these people are, who can?

I don't think MANSA ought to be sending out the terminology gestapo in this postmodern age of "many voices."  And the issue is extremely complex.  But I think it would be useful to have some discussion that would help us to at least clarify the complexity now hopelessly muddled, if not to arrive at a consensus.

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