BAMAKO: “There are evil spirits down there. They take people and their motorcycles and drag them into the river. “
Boukari Sagara is very specific. He would have preferred to make a long detour rather than cross one of the three bridges over the Niger River at Bamako.
In Mali, this structure is known as the “third bridge” or “Chinese bridge” – it is the third and last crossing of the great river by the capital, built and financed by a Chinese company 11 years ago.
An old folk and animist belief has it that water jinn – supernatural beings who can be benevolent or malevolent – have always gathered in this very place, Suta Dunu, one of the holy places along the river.
For parishioners, the genies are still there, hiding under an imposing 1,600 meter (5,250 ft) long concrete span.
While this place is sacred to believers, to others it is a place of evil.
Like many residents of Bamako, Sagara prefers to leave his path for half an hour and choose another bridge, rather than approach this “non-Muslim place.”
However, the shores under the “Chinese bridge” are far from deserted.
In the dry season, black sandstone rocks smoothed by strong currents appear above the water level. They blush almost every day from the blood of sacrificed animals: goats, chickens, sheep, and sometimes bulls.
Several bushes dot the stuck plastic bags. The annual rains that started in early June will wash it all away.
– ‘Bad spells’ –
Many people find compelling reasons to come to Suta Duna by asking jinn for help with family, work, or relationship problems. Some just need moral support.
For over 20 years, Assa Kamara, in her 50s, has performed the ritual.
“I had a dream, I saw a genie, he told me to come and make sacrifices,” she said. AFPsitting on a stone under a bridge in an impeccable dress adorned with a talisman.
That same morning, a woman came to bring her an offering, including two chickens, three eggs, two cigarettes, and milk. She asked Kamara to intercede with the spirits.
Many leave with the meat of the sacrificed animal.
Tiam Diarra said he came because he was the victim of a curse.
From a small stone bridge from the French colony, which has survived under the Chinese bridge, Diarra poured a bag of medicines into the water as a gift to the river and the genies.
“This is done in order to ward off a bad spell that a marabut (medicine man) put on me at someone’s request,” he says.
Diarra, dressed in a smart shirt and skinny pants, quickly drove off on his scooter to pursue his long-day shopkeeping profession.
“If the third bridge is one of those sacred places where (people believe) jinn can live, then drowning in this part of the river has certainly intensified this phenomenon,” says anthropologist Salia Male.
– “Classic Phenomenon” –
Believers represent these drowning, as well as suicides, which are generally rare in Malian society, as “proof” of the existence of jinn, as well as traffic accidents in the immediate vicinity of the bridge.
Some claim to have seen a siren, others talk about a flooded village or a huge genie’s hand that grabs motorcyclists underwater to kill them.
“This is just a myth. The reality became known when the Chinese built the bridge, ”says Belko Uologem, director of the Confucius Institute in Bamako, who also worked as a translator for the Chinese company CGGC during the construction.
“The company studied the river with a robot. They discovered the presence of a large hole leading to the surface of the water table. The hole forms a vortex and sucks in whatever gets into it, ”he adds. “It’s a classic phenomenon.”
During the construction of the bridge, large signs were displayed explaining the geology of the place.
Chinese engineers “built bridges across the sea – they will not be stopped by the Malian jinn,” jokes Oulogem.
“The Chinese, like everyone else, made sacrifices to build their bridge!” counters Aliu Diarra, a parts dealer who comes every two weeks to make a sacrifice.
“It’s impossible to explain, it’s the way it is,” he said. “We shouldn’t worry too much or the jinn will get angry.” – AFP