Filed Under (General) by Rob on 12-09-2009

(revised copy of an article originally posted in April ’08).

Ask any Malian whether they eat beans and they’re likely to burst out laughing and/or deny ever eating them…

Laughing Malian

This is part of the joking relationships which exist between different people groups and family names in Mali. Families such as Diarra and Traoré, or Keita and Coulibaly are considered ‘cousins’ and will ‘tease’ each other, calling them bean-eaters just for fun.

In fact, when you say: “I be syo dun!” (You eat beans!) to a rival group, it has – apparently – to do with flatulance. However, when I ask Malians about this, no-one seems to admit that this is the root of the joke! It’s all done in good spirit, of course, and the malians never tire of it, however often you bring it up (it even happens at weddings, apparently!)

(Photo of genuine malian beans taken at the main market in Bamako).

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)

Non-Malians also tend to ‘adopt’ a family name for themselves, so I’ve chosen to be a Traoré. So, after the inevitable initial “how are you” greetings, the conversation would continue thus:

Malian: What’s your family name?
Rob: Traoré. And yours?
Malian: I’m a Diarra. You Traoré!
Rob: (in local language): You Diarra! You eat beans!
Malian: (Laughs & shakes my hand): No, my friend. It’s the Traoré who eat beans, not the Diarra.
Rob: No, it’s the Diarra. You even grow the beans!
Malian: We may grow them, but it’s you we sell them to you at a high price, so you can eat them!

…and so on. It’s great fun once you get the hang of it. Thought you’d enjoy this wee anthropological gem!!

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