Largest Ethnic Groups In Mali

A Dogon woman in Mali. Editorial credit: Quick Shot /
A Dogon woman in Mali. Editorial credit: Quick Shot /

Mali is a landlocked country in the Western parts of Africa. The capital is Bamako, and the country has a population of 14.5 million people. This population consists of some sub-Saharan ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group is the Bambara with an estimated population of 2.7 million people as at the year 2007. The other major groups include the Fulani, Sarakole, Senufo, and Dogo. These ethnic groups are predominantly Islam as the religion was brought to them by Berber traders. We are going to discuss some of these major ethnic groups.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Mali


The Bambara are the largest ethnic group in the country making up about 36.5% of the total population in the country. They are believed to have originated from southern parts of Mauritania as early as 2000BC. Most of them are Muslim in the present day with, but a good number still practice traditional rituals. The Bambara art is one of the most sophisticated and diverse being adapted from various artistic traditions. The artwork was used to define religion and each creative artwork anybody made was seen as a different way to appease the spirits. The Bambara language is spoken by over 80% of Malians irrespective of their ethnic group. Apart from Mali, the group is also found in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Mauritania.


They also referred to as the Fulbe, Fula, or the Hilani depending ion the Language one is speaking. They are one of the largest groups in Africa with the majority of them living in Nigeria. Other countries they occupy include; Guinea, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and Sudan. They are believed to have come from intermarriages from the people of North Africa and the Middle East who intermarried with West Africans. About a third of the Fulani are nomadic pastoralists with the remainder having adopted a more sedentary lifestyle. The Fulani are the earliest ethnic group in West Africa to adopt the Islamic religion, and they took center stage in spreading it.hey have participated in several major Jihad wars which also led to rapid spread of Islam in the area. The tribe has held on to a very rigid caste system with for major castes which are ; traders, tradesmen, and descendants of slaves. A person can only marry within their caste. They are traditional nomadic pastoralist trading people, but some of them have become plant farmers and lived a more settled life.


These are Sonike speaking group with a total population of around two million people in West Africa. They are also found in Mauritania, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Gambia. Archeological evidence shows that the Sarakole lived in stone settlements in the ancient times. They believe that they come from an ancestor called Dinga who came from the Middle East. They culture has borrowed a lot from the Islam culture especially o marriage. The Sarakole are known for their strict adherence to their culture, and they still practice female circumcision.


The Senufo are sub-divided into three major groups which are quite distinct. They are namely; Northern Senufo, Southern Senufo, and central Senufo are the smallest. They are multi-lingual and speak more than thirty languages. The Senufo group also practices hereditary caste system with the castes being despised and the farmers being higher ranked than the artisans. There are villages which are independent of each other with a male society known as Poro which conducts a secret initiation in the forests.


This is one of the minority groups living in central parts of Mali. They are best known for their make dance and religious traditions. Their art primarily consists of sculpture which revolves around religion, values, and freedoms. 

Other Ethnic Groups Of Mali

Malinke, Bobo, Songhai, and the Tuareg are some of the other notable ethnic groups in the country. There are other groups which are very minor comprising of few members. The most common traditions in all Malian communities is the practice of the case system, circumcision of both male and female, and widespread acceptance of the Islamic religion.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Mali

Rank Ethnic Group Share of Population in Mali
1 Bambara 34%
2 Fulani 15%
3 Sarakole 11%
4 Senufo 11%
5 Dogon 9%
6 Malinke 9%
7 Bobo 3%
8 Songhai 2%
9 Tuareg 1%
Other Ethnic Groups 5%

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