Amadou Hampâté Bâ (c. 1900-1991) was a well-known Malian diplomat and author of the last half of the twentieth century. His fiction and non-fiction books in French are widely respected as sources of information and insight on West African history, religion, literature and culture, and life.
From the time of his youth, Mr. Bâ was a student and disciple of an extraordinary Malian Sufi master, Tierno Bokar. Shaykh Bokar has become known as “the sage of Bandiagara,” the town in Mali where he lived for most of his life. Tierno Bokar was remarkable for his universalist attitudes and tolerance towards orthodox religions, for his parables and aphorisms, for his teaching methods, for the trials of his difficult life, and, finally, for the love and light that seemed to emanate from his person. All of this is known to us thanks to Amadou Hampâté Bâ’s testimonial to his teacher, Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bokar: Le sage de Bandiagara, which has finally been translated into English and published by World Wisdom as A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ was born to an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon territory and the ancient capital of the Masina Empire. After his father’s death, he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam of the Tukolor ethnic group. He first met his spiritual leader, Tierno Bokar, while attending the Qur’anic school run by Bokar.
In 1942, he was appointed to the Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (IFAN, French Institute of Black Africa) in Dakar. At IFAN, he made ethnological surveys and collected traditions. For 15 years he devoted himself to research, which would later lead to the publication of his work L’Empire peul de Macina(The Peul Empire of Masina). With Mali’s independence in 1960, Bâ founded the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako, and represented his country at the UNESCO general conferences. In 1962, he was elected to UNESCO’s executive council, and in 1966 he helped establish a unified system for the transcription of African languages.
His term in the executive council ended in 1970, and he devoted the remaining years of his life to research and writing. Of his books that have been translated into English, the best known is probably his novel, The Fortunes of Wangrin.
He was a champion of Africa’s oral tradition and traditional knowledge and is remembered for the saying: “whenever an old man dies, it is as though a library were burning down.
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