The Masons of Djenné

The Masons of Djenné

Trevor H. J. Marchand
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/08/2009
Format: Paperback 60 b&w photos, 13 figures, 2 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-22072-1
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Winner, 2010 Elliott P. Skinner Book Award Winner, 2010 Herskovits AwardWinner, 2009 Amaury Talbot Prize

The town of Djenné on the Bani River in Mali has been a thriving settlement for more than two millennia. Renowned for its mud-brick architecture, monumental mosque, and merchant-traders' houses, Djenné remains one of Africa's most distinctive cities. The Masons of Djenné follows Trevor Marchand after he signs on as a builder's apprentice. Marchand takes readers on his journey from raw laborer to skilled craftsman. He explores the professional associations of masons, their social networks, training regimes, and changing fortunes. With his fellow builders, he produces mud bricks and plasters, constructs walls and ceilings, and sculpts rooftop crenellations using specialized tools. Marchand describes the raising of a mud-brick house and explores the technical, social, and magical processes involved in making buildings and renewing the unique urban environment of Djenné.

Author Bio

Trevor H. J. Marchand is Professor of Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is author of Minaret Building and Apprenticeship in Yemen.


“A magical narrative on the architecture of one of Africa's most beautiful places. "An elegantly written and important anthropological study of indigenous knowledge, building practices, and social relationships among contemporary Djenné masons in Mali." —Mary Jo Arnoldi, Smithsonian Institution”

“An elegantly written and important anthropological study of indigenous knowledge, building practices, and social relationships among contemporary Djenné masons in Mali.”
 — Mary Jo Arnoldi, Smithsonian Institution

“Offers a compelling narrative which leads the reader—following the author's experiences—through all stages of construction, and it provides rich and comprehensive portraits of the masons who execute the building process and who are the producers and keepers of Djenné's unique architectural style.”
 — Geert Mommersteeg, University of Utrecht

“One reads the The Masons of Djenné . . . as instantiating the qualitities of careful but sure-footed construction and artistry that its author seeks to describe in this vivid portrayal of a community of Mailian masons.August 2010”
 — Africa

“It is a tribute to his skills as an author that the text is not only informative in a scholarly sense but also immensely enjoyable to read. . . . With this book Marchand has produced a valuable contribution to anthropology and architectural history. The material is thought provoking, accessible, and a joy to read.”
 — Buildings & Landscapes

“The author provides a fascinating close-up view of indvidual decision-making processes, as well as a step-by-step description of the various building stages. Vol. 70.1, 2011”
 — Western Folklore

“... an important contribution to the increasing interest in the study of earthen architecture and the people who inhabit them ... The complex and vast number of topics [the author] attempts to distill ... are worthy of a dissertation in and of themselves, but [the author] synthesizes them lucidly.Spring-Fall 2011”
 — Museum Anthropology Review

“Because of its breadth, this book is a valuable resource to architects, anthropologists, conservationists, development experts, and cultural tourists interested in Mali’s architecture and society.Vol. 11.2-3 Spring 2010”
 — Kathleen Louw, University of California Los Angeles

“Here is a book that puts the work back into fieldwork with the dirt left under the fingernails. to learn about construction processes, Trevor Marchand apprenticed himself to the masons in Djenné exchanging his labor for learning. . . . Over and above the book's considerable substantive and theoretical strengths, the unusually accessible exposition of this intercultural dynamic will make it well worth teaching.Vol.53.1 April 2010”
 — Allen F. Roberts, UCLA

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Table of Contents

A Note on Language

Introduction: The Field and the Work

Part 1. Elementary Lessons in the Art of Building
1. Back to Work
2. Staking a Claim
3. Magic and Mortar
4. Conflict and Resolution
Part 2. Portraits of Life and Work in Djenné
5. Master and Apprentice
6. The Michelangelo of Djenné
7. Vulnerable Craftsmen
8. Cat Heads and Mud Miters
9. Yappi's Confession
10. Finishing Off

Epilogue: Continuity and Change


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