MANSA (also the Mande word for “king”) began in 1986 as an academic organization dedicated to bringing researchers, students, and teachers together to share their interests in Mande-speaking peoples and in those who live and interact with them. To date the association has counted some 400 members representing diverse academic disciplines as well as the arts and community development sectors. Currently, most of MANSA’s members come primarily from North America (36%) and Europe (34%), and with the remainder hailing from Africa (28%), Asia, Australia, and South America.
MANSA organizes and sponsors panels annually at the ASA meeting, and this year has a record number of them on the program:
III-K-1 Massa Makan Diabaté: A Voice for Modernity in Mande Verbal Art
V-E-2 Rethinking Development Logics and Practices in Sahelian West Africa
VII-A-1 Revisiting Methods of Historical Interpretation: Manding Expressive Culture and Performance
VIII-A-1 Islamic Architecture and (Contested) Cultural Heritage Management in West Africa
IX-I-1 Emerging Ideals and Simmering Tensions: Contemporary Marriage Trends among Mande Peoples at Home and Abroad
XII-A-4 Power and the Arts in West African Power Associations
In addition to its annual panels at the African Studies Association (ASA) meeting, MANSA has organized nine international conferences on a largely-triennial timetable beyond the United States since 1993. These conferences have enlivened Africanist intellectual discussion in Bamako, Mali (1993 & 2011); Leiden, The Netherlands (1995 & 2002); Serrekunda, The Gambia (1998); Conakry and Kankan, Guinea (2005); Lisbon, Portugal (2008); and Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso (2014), enabling MANSA to maintain and grow a global network of multi-disciplinary researchers. MANSA will hold its tenth international conference from August 2-6, 2017 in Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire on the theme, “Intersecting Identities: Coexistence, Conflict, and Reconciliation in West Africa and Its Diasporas.” The event reflects more than three decades of scholarly collaborations that began as far back as the 1970s and coalesced in the 1980s.
Several precedents led to MANSA’s birth. The 1971 publication of Carleton Hodge’s edited collection, Papers on the Manding (Bloomington: Indiana University Press) galvanized the incipient field of Mande Studies. Then in 1972, the School of Oriental and African Studies held a Conference on Manding Studies. Participants included luminaries in the field too numerous to list here, many of whom subsequently became MANSA members.
The proximate stimulus for MANSA’s formation, however, was a series of roundtable discussions that Thomas Hale and Paul Stoller organized for the African Studies Association annual meetings on the Niger River Bend region in Mali and Niger. At one such roundtable, Hale suggested a newsletter to enable communication among scholars interested in the region, with David Conrad as editor. It would take time for the idea to come to fruition.
It was in 1986 in Madison, Wisconsin that Gerald Cashion, a scholar of Malian hunters’ folklore, invited colleagues to found an association to promote Mande-related scholarship. In addition to Cashion, those present included Mary Jo Arnoldi, David Conrad, Ariane DeLuz, Mona Etienne, Kate Ezra, Barbara Frank, Alma Gottlieb, Kathryn Green, Thomas Hale, Robert Handloff, Steve Harmon, John Johnson, Lansiné Kaba, Mamadou Kanté, Jon Kirby, Martin Klein, Robert Launay, Adria LaViolette, Nehemiah Levtzion, Ann McDougall, Roderick McIntosh, Patrick McNaughton, Richard Roberts, and Walter van Beek. At this meeting, Nehemia Levtzion suggested the name of the organization, and Robert Launay recommended that newsletter editor David Conrad become MANSA’s president. Kathryn Green, who took minutes, became MANSA’s first secretary. Marie Perinbam was elected its vice-president in absentia, and Cashion and Launay became its first advisory board members.
David Conrad remained president until 2008, and we are very grateful for his long-term service at the helm of this growing organization. Since then, its presidents have included Kassim Koné (2008-2014) and Barbara Hoffman (2014-2017). Marie Perinbam, Barbara Frank, Kassim Koné, Barbara Hoffman, and Joseph Hellweg have served as vice-presidents. And Kathryn Green, Laura Arnston, Stephen Wooten, Jan Jansen, Rosa de Jorio, Catherine Bogosian Ash, and Dianna Bell have served as secretary-treasurers.
In 1993, MANSA became an Associate Organization of the ASA, another step in a long tradition of participation by MANSA members in the ASA’s management, including Martin Klein (President, 1990-91), David Robinson (President, 1992-93), Lansiné Kaba (President, 2000-2001), Maria Grosz-Ngaté and Patrick McNaughton (Board of Directors, 2002-2005 and 2001-2003, respectively). MANSA is, as of 2015, a Coordinate Organization of the ASA.
MANSA members have played similar leading roles in the West African Research Association (WARA, which means “wild feline animal” in Mande languages), founded in 1989 to facilitate collaborations between researchers from West Africa and the United States. Jeanne Toungara served as WARA’s secretary (1995-97). Members of WARA’s advisory board have included Thomas Hale (1995-99) and David Conrad (1995-1997). Fiona McLaughlin directed the affiliated West African Research Center (1999), and David Robinson served as its vice-president (1996-2002). It is worth noting, too, that MANSA’s illustrious member, historian Alpha Oumar Konaré, served as Mali’s president (1992-2002) and Chairperson of the African Union Commission (2003-2008).
Above all, MANSA members have made numerous contributions to scholarship on the lives of Mande-speaking peoples and their neighbors both in and beyond West Africa. For a brief bibliography of works by MANSA members and more on its history, see http://mandestudies.org/history.
After three decades of scholarly activity, MANSA members can be proud of the numerous conference papers, journal articles, and books they have published, not to mention the organization’s journal, Mande Studies, which now thrives under the editorship of Peter Mark.
What began as an idea for a newsletter at an informal meeting of West Africanists has become a global network of students and scholars of the Mande-speaking world, its diasporic communities, and their neighbors.
Please join us at our next business meeting on Friday, December 2, 2016 12:30-1:30 to help us to continue to grow this Coordinate Organization. For more information, please see our website: www.mandestudies.org or contact Barbara Hoffman ([email protected]), Joseph Hellweg ([email protected]), or Dianna Bell ([email protected]).
By Joseph Hellweg