Place Sogolon – Bamako’s Buffalo Square, Mali

Place Sogolon in Bamako, Mali

photography by: Rgaudin/ Wikimedia Commons

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Commuters who make their way to or from Modibo Keita Airport in Bamako will come across a chaotic traffic, zillions of hawkers and most strikingly, a massive sculpted buffalo. Nestled in an otherwise unassuming roundabout known as Place Sogolon, the ferocious beast pays a tribute to one of the nation’s most renowned legends, “the Buffalo of Dô”, a story about a mythical creature whose name still evokes fear among locals.

In the aftermath of Mali’s independence, its hectic capital, Bamako, was dotted with a series of roundabouts, each of which embellished with a quaint monument that resonates with the nascent country’s rich past. Situated along the airport road, aka Kalaban Coura Street, Place Sogolon is a busy traffic circle, partially covered by patches of lawn.


Overlooking the incessant stream of vehicles, the massive buffalo sculpture in the middle of the square might seem at first like a misbegotten piece of art. Nevertheless, that couldn’t be further from the truth as this bovine statue pays homage to an ancient fable that dates back to the country’s imperial era.


Apparently, the sculpted beast was inspired by the Epic of Soundiata, a cluster of orally passed tales that came into being during the 13th century, when the Mali Empire became a dominant force throughout the region.


According to the lore, Gnèmo Diarra, the ruler of Dô region in West Africa, and his sister, Dô-Kamissa, were caught in a family fight after the latter felt betrayed by her brother. There are several theories as to why the two siblings became bitter enemies, yet the leading version is that Dô-Kamissa found out that she wasn’t invited by Diarra to a royal rite where an oversized ox was sacrificed. Enraged by her exclusion, Dô-Kamissa metamorphosed into a giant buffalo and went on a destruction spree across the area.


In the midst of her deadly vendetta, Dô-Kamissa purportedly conversed with a pair of local hunters who tried to put an end to the lady’s devastating deeds. Story has it that she agreed to tell them how to kill her buffalo form, but on one condition, that as a trophy for their efforts, the two would choose the region’s most unattractive woman, the hunchbacked Sogolon Kondé. As part of the second half of the bargain, the ill-favored lady would be offered as a wife to the king of Mandingo (a nearby region), Naré Maghann Konaté.


After marrying the Mandinka king, Sogolon gave birth to her son, Soundiata Keïta, who later became the almighty emperor of Mali, an African superpower that between the 13th-17th centuries, reigned over huge stretches of land, including much of modern-day Mali.


Whether this myth has a grain of truth to it is up for you to decide, one thing is clear though, Bamako’s buffalo statue offers a fascinating glimpse into the very heart of Malian folklore. Perching atop a stone slab, the sculpture is also accompanied by a frescoed wall, beautifully decorated with figures of women from the country’s different ethnic groups.