Journal of Community Health

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 198–224 | Cite as

Beliefs and practices concerning twins, hermaphrodites, and albinos among the Bamana and Maninka of Mali

  • Gavin H. Imperato
  • Pascal James Imperato


The Bamana and Maninka of Mali greatly value twins, and have elaborated a range of cultural beliefs and practices to assure their survival. Rates of twinning among these two ethnic groups average from 15.2/1000 to 17.9/1000 births compared to 10.5/1000 births (without assisted reproduction) in the United States and Great Britain. Twins (flaniw) are regarded as extraordinary beings with unusual powers, and as a gift from the supreme deity. A small altar (sinzin) is maintained in the home of twins, and periodic sacrifices of chicken blood, kola nuts, millet paste and millet beer regularly made to assure their protection. Albinos (yéfeguéw) and true and pseudo-hermaphrodites (tyétémousotéw) are also considered twin beings. However, they are believed to be the result of aberrant parental social behavior. The Bamana and Maninka believe that all four groups (twins, albinos, hermaphrodites, and pseudo-harmaphrodites) are closely linked to Faro, an androgynous supernatural being who provides equilibrium in the world. Faro is the original albino and hermaphrodite who gave birth to the first pair of twins after self-impregnation. Whenever a twin dies, a small wooden statue is sculpted called a flanitokélé (twin that remains). This commemorative figure is kept close to the surviving twin, reflecting a belief in the inseparability of twins. Eventually, the surviving twin takes responsibility for the figure. When a surviving twin marries, another figure is often sculpted in the opposite sex from the deceased twin, and placed with the original sculpture. Such commemorative sculptures are not created upon the death of those who are albinos, hermaphrodites, or pseudo-hermaphrodites. In recent years, transformational belief patterns have evolved as increasing numbers of Bamana and Maninka embrace Islam. Traditional beliefs are often given Islamic myths of origin. However, even in this Islamic context, many practices that assure twin survival are maintained.


Bamana and Maninka twins albinos hermaphrodites pseudo-hermaphrodites 



Special thanks are extended to the late Djigui Diakité, the late Makan Fané, the late Bafing Kané, and the late Moussa Kanté for their assistance with field investigations conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. Much appreciation is also extended to Modibo N’Faly Keita, Kolékélé Mariko, and Amadou Sanogo for their valuable help in those years, and with more recent field investigations conducted from the 1980s through 2006. We also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Boubacar Doumbia in interpreting several Bamanan-kan expressions, and that of Austin C. Imperato with various aspects of our research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Preventive Medicine and Community HealthSUNY Downstate Medical CenterBrooklynUSA

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