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Marchand, Trevor H.J. (2013) 'The Djenné Mosque: world heritage and social renewal in a West African town.' In: Verkaaik, Oskar, (ed.), Religious Architecture: anthropological perspectives. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 117-148.

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Following an historic and architectural overview of the Djenné Mosque, this chapter raises questions of ownership and control of cultural heritage. The Djenné Mosque is reputed to be the largest single mud structure in the world and each year during the dry winter season the town's population festively re-plasters its surfaces in an exhilarating one-day ceremony. Traditionally, an auspicious date for the ceremony was agreed by a group of wise and trusted elders and the association of masons lent their blessing. In 2005, however, control over scheduling the event was assumed by a festival planning committee with vested interests in attracting foreign tourists and international development aid to Djenné. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is one such donor, and in 2009 they oversaw a massive conservation project for the Mosque, stripping its walls, roof and buttresses of accumulated layers of plaster in order to restore the building to its “original” form and to address points of structural weakness. Debates and discussions ensued among conservationists, material scientists and town residents over the long-term preservation of the building, and it was rumoured that one group of foreign experts even proposed the application of a more permanent protective layer that would render the annual re-plastering ceremony obsolete. Based on ethnographic research, the chapter will argue that such scientific solutions and Western-framed conservation agendas neglect the important social function played by the communal re-plastering effort. The annual ceremony renews bonds among the town's citizens and between the various town quarters. It also provides an important forum for youth to learn about their architectural heritage and religious identity, and it introduces young men to basic building techniques that they can apply in the upkeep of their own homes. In sum, the Djenné Mosque is more than a place for Muslim prayer or an object of architectural interest: rather, it is the focal point around which Djenné society, identity and knowledge has been continually renewed and reinforced.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Djenné Mosque, mud-brick architecture, re-plastering ceremony, masons, architectural conservation, cultural heritage, urban identity
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
ISBN: 9789089645111
Date Deposited: 05 Aug 2013 08:50

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