It was late afternoon by the time our pirogue pulled up on the banks of the village of Kalabougou. Located on the left side of the Niger River, it was less than an hour’s ride from Segou, a town about four hours north of Bamako. The visit was timed perfectly – it was a Saturday, the day that the women of the town would be burning their pottery. Kalabougou is known for its pottery, which is sold in both Segou and Bamako. The women of the village spend the week preparing the clay vases and bowls, which are then burned on Saturdays, cooled on Sundays and sold in the markets on Mondays.
We walked through the village, past two mosques and through a few family compounds where women were hard at work at various stages of the pottery making process, from stomping on the clay mud to shaping and spinning vases of all sizes.
Then, we arrived at a wide open area where the pottery would be burned less than an hour later. More than a dozen women were piling armloads of straw, leaves and branches on top of several mounds, covering up the pieces of pottery that were waiting to be burned.
And then the elder woman of the group appeared with a torch of branches and hurried around one of the mounds, setting it on fire. Orange flames grew and white smoke rose into the air. As the mound grew black, another woman added more branches to keep the fire going. It wasn’t long before all of the mounds were consumed by flames and the air was thick with smoke. Luckily, the winds were blowing away from where we stood, or the smoke would have quickly become too much to bear. As it was, we had to walk through it as we departed and by the time we returned to the pirogue, my eyes were burning and my nose was running.
Altogether, we spent a couple hours in Kalabougou and I bought a small piece of pottery as a souvenir before we left. Visiting the village and watching the pottery burning was definitely one of the highlights of visiting Mali and I highly recommend it as a quick day trip from Segou, either on its own or combined with a visit to Segoukoro (old Segou). You can get there by taxi or motorbike, but taking a ride on the Niger is much more scenic (in my opinion!). I arranged my trip with Papillon Reizen and they found a couple others to join in to keep the cost down a bit.