May 24, 2024

DJENNE, Mali (AP) — Thousands of Malians carrying buckets and jugs of mud joined the annual replastering of the world’s largest mud-brick building this weekend, a key ritual that maintains the integrity of the Great Mosque of Djenne in the center of the country.

The building has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list since 2016. The mosque and surrounding town, a historical center of Islamic learning, have been threatened by conflict between Islamist rebels, government forces and other groups.

Djenne’s mosque requires a new layer of mud each year before the start of the rainy season in June, or the building will fall into disrepair. The replastering event once drew tens of thousands of tourists each year. As with the rest of Mali, Djenne’s tourism industry has all but completely disappeared.

Amadou Ampate Cisse, a Djenne resident taking part in the event, told The Associated Press: “The plastering of the mosque is a symbol of peace. The poor, the rich, everyone is here for this activity. We will continue this tradition from generation to generation. We will pass it on to our children and they in turn will do the same.”

Traditionally men and boys are responsible for climbing the mosque and applying the new layer of mud, while women and girls are responsible for fetching water from the nearby river to mix with clay to make more of the mud needed for the event.

Moussa Moriba Diakité, head of Djenne’s cultural mission, said that security has threatened the annual event. “A lot of people talk about insecurity, and we hear that we can’t come to Djenne because there is insecurity,” he said.

Despite the disappearance of Djenne’s tourism industry, the maintenance of the mosque is something that must continue “at any cost”, Diakité said, in order to preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

Mali, along with its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger, is battling an insurgency by armed groups, including some allied with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Following military coups in all three nations in recent years, the ruling juntas have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance.

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