Architecture of the Middle Niger River in Mali:

Conformity, Innovation, and Diversity

Adobe and Thatch


Although the best-known buildings are made of these sun-dried bricks, thatched houses represent another building tradition. In focusing on the use of mud, studies have tended to overlook the importance of non-mud architecture. Consequently they have also not considered the impact that these structures have made on the Middle Niger.

Like many work-related activities in sub-Saharan Africa, building has traditionally been gender-based. Men have assumed a major role in preparing mud for building material, while women have taken an important, but secondary role. But in the Middle Niger, women are the architects of thatched domed houses. Even in urban settings, such as the city of Mopti, these structures exist almost unnoticed along with the more widely studied mud structures. Throughout the Middle Niger where nomadic cattle herders tend their livestock, the thatched domes are a common sight. As cattle herders become sedentary, they include more mud in constructing their houses. The thatched houses have retained their form and use, while the mud structures (such as mosques) have undergone many changes. Because the thatched houses require only natural materials, which degrade quickly when no longer used, they are excellent examples of ‘green architecture’.