Filed Under (General) by Rob on 22-04-2008

(NB Rob is in Mali at the moment).

Sounds like a normal enough question, but ask any Malian the same question and they’re likely to burst out laughing and/or deny ever eating them…
(Photo of genuine malian beans taken at the market today).

This is part of the joking relationships which exist between different people groups and family names in Mali. The most common family names here include: Diarra, Traoré, Keita and Coulibaly. A Diarra will say that a Traoré eats beans, as a light-hearted put down. The Traoré will deny this and say that it’s the Diarra who are the bean-eaters! It’s like all Smiths saying the Jones’s smell and vice versa!

In fact, when you say: “I bε s×› dun!” (You eat beans!) to a rival group, it has – apparently – to do with flatulance. However, when I asked my Malian students about this, no-one would admit it! It’s all done in good spirit, of course, and seems to have existed for eons.

Still, don’t take my word for it, read Rachel Jones’s doctoral thesis on the subject (yes, I’m not joking this time, you bean eater, you!) The main ‘bean bit’ starts on page 74. Here’s a quote if you’re too busy to look:

“…beans have the annoying property of causing one to bloat and break wind
when one abuses them […] breaking wind in public is the
most unfortunate act […] Thus, beans whose consumption can
lead to being discourteous (in breaking wind) are not sensibly consumed by
any person of quality”.

(From: “You Eat Beans!” © Rachel Jones, Anthropology Department, Macalester College, April 30, 2007)

I tried it out today at the market, causing much hilarity. Non-Malians also tend to ‘adopt’ a family name for themselves, so I’ve elected to be a Traoré (I know 3 Traoré’s already and they’re all nice people!) So, the conversation (after the inevitable initial “how are you” greetings) would generally go like this:

Malian: Are you a Diarra?
Rob: No, I’m a Traoré. And you?
Malian: I’m a Diarra.
Rob: (in local language): You eat beans!
Malian: (Laughs & shakes my hand): No, my friend. It’s the Traoré who eat beans, not the Diarra.
Rob: That’s not true! The Diarra are the bean-eaters, everyone knows that.
Malian: No Рyou Traor̩ are the biggest bean-eaters!

…and so on. It’s great fun once you get the hang of it. Increadible that this is a national joke based on farting!

There you go – I couldn’t resist sharing this wee anthropological gem with you all!

2 Comments posted on "Do you eat BEANS???"
anne on April 23rd, 2008 at 9:12 pm #

i see a Heinz advert idea in here somewhere, not quite sure where yet though. have fun.

Janet Parker on May 15th, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

Hey Rob: have you never heard the rhyme:
Beans, Beans the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more yu toot
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So lets have beans at every meal!