Why Does the Great Mosque of Djenne Need to be Repaired Every Year?

The entire city of Djenne is built from mud

The temperature in Djenne during the dry season often reaches 45 degrees C, but the Mosque interior always offers a cool refuge for prayer and reflection in the quiet sandy alleyways between the 100 great pillars which hold up the stupendous mud roof. 

The entire city of Djenne is built from mud, which is a material well suited to these extreme weather conditions in that the thick walls of the buildings retain the cool from the earth and the relatively chilly nights. 

The Great Mosque of DjennéInstruments for Africa

The rainy season with its violent storms and torrential downpours ravages the fragile surface of the mud plaster which covers the buildings and they therefore need to have a new layer of mud applied every year.

Crépissage Festival at the Great Mosque of DjennéInstruments for Africa

The crepissage (mud-plastering in French) of the Djenne buildings can take place at any time during the dry season (December to May) and the most usual time for the crepissage of the Mosque is April.

The mud is first collected from the river and brought into town where it is left to mature in great mounds in the streets in front of the houses or in special large vats in front of the mosque. 

The mud is applied to the Mosque of Djenné directly by handInstruments for Africa

The mud is mixed with rice husks and often with an oily substance to make it more water repelling. This can either be the traditional shea butter, derived from the fruits of the beautiful oak-like trees which dot the countryside in the Massina, the inland Niger delta, or sometimes discarded engine sump oil which provides a less romantic but cheaper alternative these days. 

Men carry the clay to the MosqueInstruments for Africa

After around three weeks of fermentation, the mud is mature and ready for plastering onto the walls- this is always done directly by the hand. 

More mud is transported by the youths in the days and the night before the great event to mix in with the already ‘matured’ mud to make sure there is enough and because it is a joyous and integral part of the festival.

Waving the flag of Mali in front of the Great Mosque of DjenneInstruments for Africa

The last mud is brought in through the Djenne streets lined with young girls waving Malian flags and beating their cowry-shell covered calebasses.

Re-plastering of the Great Mosque of DjennéInstruments for Africa

The masons of Djenne belong to the Barey-Ton, or the Masons’ Guild, an ancient institution which imparts knowledge to its members from generation to generation: not only the mechanics of the mud brick building and plastering but also the secret knowledge of magic which must accompany each building task. 

Praying at the Great Mosque of DjennéInstruments for Africa

The crepissage of the Mosque is not simply blessed by the Imam but it also has an ‘extra layer’ of blessing provided by the masons’ incantations and talismans. The Imam’s Islamic blessing signify Bey-koray  (white magic) and the masons’ incantations signify Bey- Bibi (Black magic). 

Festival at the Grand Mosque of Djenné | We Clothe the Mosque Every Year to Protect ItInstruments for Africa

Both are necessary for the smooth running of the task ahead- and once these rituals have been performed in  combination with the customary animal sacrifice the work can finally begin. 

Soldier at the crépissage festivalInstruments for Africa

If you ask a Djenne inhabitant whether there are ever any accidents during the Mosque crepissage when hundreds of people are precariously perched high on top of slippery make-shift ladders and speed is all that matters they will tell you that no one has ever come to any harm – so it seems that it is working!

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