Bambara, the "people who refuse to be ruled" is the literal meaning of their name. They are the largest ethnic group in Mali, West Africa of which they make up about 35% of the population. Their language is the trade language spoken throughout much of the country and they have been the dominant people group of Malian society. They are descendants of the Mande race and up unit the 1700's ruled over much of West Africa. In the 1800's very aggressive Muslim groups attacked the Bambara strongholds and for the next 40 years ruled over the people. The Muslims had very little success attaining converts from the Bambara actually until the arrival of the French, now the Bambara are almost 70% Muslim.
They Bambara are mainly farmers who grow millet, sorghum and tobacco as well as some cotton. They posses a little livestock for farm help and then they also have some that they keep on hand as almost a bank investment. They work hand in hand with the Fulani. In exchange for supplies of vegetables and trade products the Fulani will watch and heard the cattle of the Bambara.
The Bambara are a very family oriented culture, as is very evident through their enormous family groups. Bambara homes will include large numbers of family members and family groups, and will sometimes hold 60 people at a time. All women are married and even widows who are very old will be sought after because a person's status is very high dependant on his wives. Most women have about 8 children.
The Bambara are famous for their wood carvings and paintings which are very abstract. They are meant to draw the person into a glimpse of the unknown. The Bambara love to make ordinary tools and vessels beautiful and many artists are not considered successful unless the thing that they are making serves a specific purpose, whether magical or practical.
Most Bambara would consider themselves to be Muslims, however they generally practice a blend of folk religion and spirit worship combined with Islam. Tradition is extremely important to the Bambara and the practice and handing down of different practices and rituals as well as religious belief is very important to them.