#AuxSons is a collaborative, militant and solidary web media
songhoybluesatmorgan-12 - Aliou Toure, lead singer of Songhoy Blues: “Mogoya has disappeared and the love of power has eclipsed the power of love” © Andy Morgan


My son comes into the kit­chen with a stack of dir­ty plates and dumps them in the sink. I ask him to put them in the dis­h­wa­sher. He walks out in a sulk. The for­mer Pre­sident of Mali’s son, Karim Kei­ta, is fil­med sip­ping Moët and Chan­don on a luxu­ry yacht somew­here near the Balea­ric islands, sur­roun­ded by hot young flesh, while many Malian citi­zens are won­de­ring where their next few meals are coming from, or whe­ther it’s safe enough to tra­vel to their local mar­ket to buy grain. To varying degrees, both my son and the for­mer President’s son are guil­ty of flou­ting the prin­ciples of mogoya.

Mogoya is a Man­dé word that’s often trans­la­ted as ‘human-ness’ or ‘per­son-hood’. I find that trans­la­tion unsa­tis­fac­to­ry because a human or a per­son can be good or bad. A bet­ter approxi­ma­tion is the Yid­dish word ‘mensch’. A ‘mogo’ is a mensch, and ‘mogoya’ is mensch-ness.

Oumou San­ga­ré – Mogoya


Eve­ryone you talk to has their own defi­ni­tion of mogoya. To Oumou San­gare, who relea­sed an album cal­led Mogoya in 2017 (and has since fol­lo­wed it up remixed and acous­tic ver­sions), the word means “huma­ni­ty” and “hones­ty.” The ngo­ni mas­ter Bas­se­kou Kouyate des­cribes a per­son with mogoya as “someone who’s incor­rup­tible, someone who’ll never betray you, never be jea­lous, never wish ill on anyone.” Accor­ding to the rap­per Ami Yere­wo­lo, to have mogoya is “to be there for the other, to love each other, to help each other.” Che­rif Kei­ta, pro­fes­sor of French and the Libe­ral Arts at Car­le­ton Col­lege in Min­ne­so­ta and bio­gra­pher of Salif Kei­ta, believes the basic prin­ciple of mogoya “is the know­ledge that you come into the world in other people’s hands, and you also leave the world in other people’s hands. Mogoya reco­gnizes that depen­dence on com­mu­ni­ty, on your fel­low human.”

Bas­se­kou Kouyate & Ngo­ni Ba (Live at Müpa Budapest)


Mogoya belongs to that sub­stra­tum of Afri­can spi­ri­tua­li­ty that pre­dates the arri­val of Islam or Chris­tia­ni­ty. The word encom­passes the ins­ti­tu­tions and attri­butes that make it pos­sible for human beings to live toge­ther in peace and har­mo­ny : the vil­lage, the exten­ded fami­ly, the exte­rior ‘social’ self, the care and edu­ca­tion of chil­dren, res­pect for elders and ances­tors, hones­ty, humi­li­ty, coope­ra­tion, tole­rance and res­pect. It sub­sumes social prin­ciples and habits that have under­pin­ned Man­dé socie­ties for cen­tu­ries, from horo­nya (’nobi­li­ty’), to dan­bé (‘digni­ty’) to senan­kouya (‘jocu­lar inter-eth­nic relationships’or the abi­li­ty of someone from one eth­nic group to take the mickey out of someone from ano­ther group without it lea­ding to violence).

Pit­ted against mogoya are the forces of dark­ness and dis­cord : the wild bush coun­try beyond the vil­lage, the ‘inter­ior’ pri­vate self, des­truc­tive indi­vi­dua­li­ty, nar­row self-inter­est, jea­lou­sy, arro­gance and greed. And above all, lust for money.

The Ban­tu concept of ubun­tu is almost iden­ti­cal to mogoya. At Nel­son Mandela’s fune­ral, Barack Oba­ma des­cri­bed ubun­tu as a word that cap­tures Mandela’s grea­test gift : “his recog­ni­tion that we are all bound toge­ther in ways that are invi­sible to the eye ; that there is a one­ness to huma­ni­ty ; that we achieve by sha­ring with other, and caring for those around us.” He might just as well have been tal­king about mogoya.

The cru­cial point is that at birth, a human being is a mere animal–a wild, unta­med homo sapiens. She or he must acquire mogoya in order to become a ful­ly roun­ded per­son who’s easy to live with. It’s a life­long pro­cess, and in tra­di­tio­nal socie­ty it began when a baby heard her mother’s lul­la­bies and conti­nued with the sto­ries, riddles, dances, music and theatre that were gif­ted by grand­pa­rents, exten­ded fami­ly, the vil­lage and, in the Mande world, the griots.

By gra­dual osmo­sis, the child absor­bed the wis­dom of the ances­tors and acqui­red a strong sense of her own iden­ti­ty, her place in the world, the dif­fe­rence bet­ween right and wrong. The acqui­si­tion of mogoya then pro­cee­ded through a pre-defi­ned sys­tem of ini­tia­tions and mem­ber­ship of year-groups and asso­cia­tions, through ado­les­cence, adul­thood, old age and final­ly death and re-entry into the invi­sible world of the ances­tors and spi­rits. Edu­ca­tion was about lear­ning to live with others, first and fore­most. Curio­si­ty, inno­va­tion and indi­vi­dual brilliance were seen as secon­da­ry concerns, or even dan­gers to be avoided.

But that was then. Nowa­days, Malians spend more time lamen­ting the death of mogoya than living by its pre­cepts. It’s tel­ling that Oumou Sangare’s album was relea­sed in Mali under the title Bi Mogoya, or ‘Today’s Mogoya.’  Consi­de­ring all the tales of decep­tion, dis­ho­nes­ty and sexual infi­de­li­ty in the lyrics of its songs, the title makes per­fect sense.

Here in Afri­ca we had cer­tain values that are being lost,” Oumou told me back in 2017. “The Afri­can is very poor, but very cor­rect. When an Afri­can says, ‘Yes, I’ll do that,’ he’ll do it, without a contract or any­thing. He’ll do it because he gave his word. But now, it’s the opposite.”


(…) to be conti­nued … Read epi­sode 2 of this article !



Andy Morgan


Andy Morgan is a writer and photographer based in Bristol, UK. He worked for 30 years in music ending up as manager of Tinariwen. In 2010 he turned to writing and photography full time, contributing articles to The Guardian, The Independent, Songlines and many other publications. He has also appeared on the BBC, Al Jazeera and CBC. His first book, Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali (Freemuse Publications), was published in May 2013.  Andy’s photography has appeared in Songlines, Condé Nast Traveller and other publications, and on the front cover of CDs by Songhoy Blues, Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita and Gwyneth Glyn. In 2017 Andy curated an exhibition of global music photography at The Royal Albert Hall in London, to which he contributed a number of images. 

Please choose how you want to receive news from our online media platform #AuxSons by Zone Franche
You can use the unsubscribe link included in the newsletter at any time. Learn more about managing your data and your rights.