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Caravan routes have passed through Mali since A.D. 300. The Malinke empire ruled regions of Mali from the 12th to the 16th century. The rulers of Mali came to be called Mansa; meaning “emperor,” or “master.” Mansa Musa (1307-1332) became the most accomplished and famous of all the emperors of Mali. He was the grandson of Sundiata’s half brother. Musa ruled Mali at its peak, a time of great prosperity when trade tripled. During his rule he doubled the land area of Mali by uniting smaller city-states. At its height during the 14th century, Mali was a larger kingdom than all of Europe at the time and only smaller than the Asian kingdom of Genghis Khan at the time.

As Mali's power waned, Songhay, which had been an important trade center, asserted its independence and rose to power, making Gao its capital. Under the Songhay king Sunni Ali Ber, who came to power in 1464, Songhay became dominant and overtook Tombouctou and Djenne. Later, a leader named Askia Mohammed Toure extended the Songhay kingdom farther than Ghana or Mali had before and brought an organized system of government to the area. From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest African empires in history. This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai. Its capital was the city of Gao, (on the Niger River, east of Tombouctou) where a small Songhai state had existed since the 11th century. Its base of power was on the bend of the Niger River in present-day Niger and Burkina Faso.

Morocco conquered Tombouctou in 1591 and ruled over it for two centuries. Subjugated by France by the end of the 19th century, the land the territory took the name of  Soudan Français in 1894. The name was changed into Sénégambie et Niger in 1902 and became a colony in 1904.In 1906 the name was changed into Haut-Sé’négal et Niger but in 1920 the original name of Soudan Français was reintroduced. In 1946 became part of the French Union. In 1959 it was joined with the Republic of Senegal in the Mali Federation. On June 20, 1960, it became independent under the name of Sudanese Republic. However, Senegal seceded from the federation on Aug. 20, 1960, and the Sudanese Republic then changed its name to the Republic of Mali on Sept. 22.




Detail of the portolan of Angelino Dulcert, 1339.


Much of our knowledge about the Mali empire is based on oral history and the manuscripts of Ibn Batuta who traveled in the Western Sudan in the fifties of the 14th century but almost no visual documents exist about its mediaeval history. On the maps of Catalan navigators, the socalled portulans, the north of Western Africa appears in the beginning of the 14th century. The oldest picture of a Malinese king is on the map of Angelino Dulcert (1339). On this map a king is depicted, sitting on his throne, on his head a turban his right forefinger raised and in his left hand a sceptre. The legend Rex Melly identifies him as the king of Mali. This picture is copied in different ways on later portolans. On the map of Abraham Cresques, called the “Atlas Catalan” (1375, now in the national library of Paris), the king is definitely black and the turban is exchanged for a golden crown. Of course we should be very careful to accept that this picture actually depicts an African king because crown and regalia resemble too much the European regalia of the time. Nevertheless, the author seems to be quite sure that there was an important king in this region (which he calls Ginyia), and near a city called tombukh (Tombouctou), somewhat north of a lake in the Niger River (called Rio de Oro in contemporary literature).

A copy of this map, made by Mecia de Viladestes in 1413, identifies the black king as REX MUSAMELI, in whom we may recognize the Malinese king Mansa Musa (1307-1332).


The King of Mali on the Atlas Catalan (1375)


Modern Mali


Modern Mali appears in heraldry only in the last years of French rule.




A flag was adopted for French Sudan on the 24th of November 1958. It consisted of the French tricolore with a black human figure added in the middle. This flag was abandoned on the 4th of April of 1959 for a new one of the same design but in the pan-african colors green, yellow and red. On 20th of January 1961 the black human figure, called a kanaga, was removed as a result of muslim opposition which considered it as a heathen symbol. The kanaga was a symbol of the temporal and cosmic order originating in Dogon-culture, one of the main cultures of Mali. It can also be interpreted as a symbol of the ancient Mali empire. 


“The kanaga mask can be interpreted in various ways by the initiates, the dancers and the witnesses. For some, it represents the bird kommolo tebu, for others a  crocodile, a cow, an antelope, or the blacksmith-sculptor himself. All depends on the interpretation of the dancer's attributes (headdress, purse, cane, costume …) and in the way in which the mask  dances. The deeper meaning of the kanaga mask apparently pertains both to God, the crossbars being his arms and legs, and to the arrangement of the universe, with the upper crossbar representing the sky and the lower one the earth. Then inert and secular, the mask became the attribute of a dressed up dancer which gave it life and word. Because of this it is only through the movement, and through the dancer more particularly, that the mask finds its effectiveness.

This kind of mask is allotted to the male initiation society awa, closely related to ancestors' cult and dama ceremonies. For the Dogon, these ceremonies give access to the universal vital force and to the reincarnation of the departed. The symbolic system of interpretation by the initiate reveals the creator, indicated by the dancer's gesture in the sky and the ground 18th / 19th century.”


The Arms


A  coat of arms for the Republic was created after the gaining of independence in 1960. It was circular with a representation of the Djenné-mosque in the centre, a vulture in chief and a rising sun and two bows and arrows in the base. The disc surrounded by the legend REPUBLIQUE DU MALI / UNE PEUPLE  UN BUT UNE FOI.  ( One People, One Goal, One Belief)

Initially the field of the arms was red, the vulture white, and the mosque, the bows-and-arrows and the rising sun yellow. The legend was on a green bordure.


By Ordonnances n°s 56 and 57 of  20th of October 1973 the seal and the arms of the republic were officially adopted. (see text below)

The colour of the background is described now as being light-blue, the vulture dark grey, the mosque light light grey, the bows-and-arrows black and the sun yellow.  


The seal of state is also circular with a lion rampant in the middle, surrounded by a garland of sorghum and rice and a buffalo´s head in chief. And as a legend the same words as for the arms.

There is no picture of this seal available.


There may be some confusion about the meaning of the charges of the arms. In the decree of 1973 the bird is described as a “legendary vulture” but clearly a dove is depicted which would symbolize the peace between the arab and black communities living together in Mali. The rising sun symbolizes the longing for a free Africa. The Djenné Mosque is interpreted as a symbol of the many cities of Mali but also can be intrepreted as the symbol of Islam.

The colors of the first arms are the pan-african colors of which the green symbolizes nature, the yellow purity and national treasures and the red valiance and the blood spilled for independence.


The lion rampant on the seal refers to the leadership of a legendary king of Mali named Sundiata. Sogolon-Djata, or Sundiata - meaning “The Hungering Lion”- was born into the royal Keita clan of the Malinke people. The lion was the symbol of the Keita clan and Sundiata became known in legend as the “Lion King.” He is credited with uniting a weak and scattered people and ushering in a period of peace and prosperity.


The sorgum and rice symbolize the main crops of Mali and the buffalo´s head the cattle breeding.


Le Sceau, les Armoiries, et la Devise du Mali

The Seal, the Coat of Arms and the Motto of Mali


L'ordonnance n°57/CMLN du 20 octobre 1973 crée le Sceau de l'Etat du Mali.

L'ordonnance n°56/CMLN du 20 octobre crée les Armoiries de la République du Mali.

La Devise de la République du Mali est « Un Peuple, Un But, Une Foi ». Elle est déterminée par la Constitution.


Le Sceau de l'Etat

Le Sceau de l'Etat du Mali est de forme circulaire.

Il porte:

Au centre, un lion debout entouré d'un épi de mil, d'un épi de riz et d'une tête de bœuf ;

Sur le pourtour, la légende « République du Mali » au dessus « Un Peuple, Un But, Une Foi », au-dessous.


Les Sceaux, Timbres secs sous forme de presse et cachets des grands corps de l'Etat, des Ministres, des Cours et Tribunaux, des Greffiers, notaires, huissiers, de toutes les Administrations et Autorités Publiques portent les mêmes caractéristiques que le Sceau de l'Etat. Toutefois, le titre de l'Administration ou de l'autorité publique pour laquelle ils seront employés, remplacera la devise.

Le Ministre de la Justice est le gardien exclusif des originaux des Sceaux.


Les Armoiries du Mali

Les Armoiries de la République du Mali sont de forme circulaire.

Elles portent sur un fond bleu-ciel 

a) Au centre, la Mosquée de Djenné en gris-argile,

b) Au-dessus de la Mosquée, le Vautour Légendaire en vol plané en gris foncé ;

c) Au-dessous, le soleil levant, en jaune-or ;

d) Devant le soleil, deux arcs opposés tendus par leurs flèches en noir,

e) Sur le pourtour, en haut « République du Mali », en bas « Un Peuple, Un But, Une Foi » en lettres d'imprimerie noires.


Les Armoiries du Mali

Armoiries du Mali. Source: Grande Chancellerie du Mali

Les actes, les papiers de correspondances et enveloppes du Chef de l'Etat, du Président du Gouvernement, du Président de l'Assemblée Nationale, des Ministres, du Président de la Cour Suprême, des Représentants diplomatiques et consulaires à l'Etranger, porteront les armoiries de la République.

La reproduction des armoiries par quelque procédé que ce soit et sur quelque matière que ce soit est subordonnée à une autorisation préalable du Ministère de la Justice, Garde des Sceaux.


La Devise du Mali

La Devise de la République est " Un Peuple - Un But - Une Foi "

Elle est déterminée par l'article 25 de la Constitution.


Le sceau de l’Etat et les armoiries de la République ont été modifiées par deux lois du 16 juillet 2001 afin de prendre en charge les évolutions institutionnelles induites par la Constitution de la III ème République.





Assemblée Nationale



After of the proclamation of independence, one of the first institutions of the Republic put in place, was the Assemblée Territoriale, this assembly seeing the light of day following the adoption of the Framework Law in 1956. Before,the country reached its national sovereignty, its representatives sat in the national assembly and the French Senate. Following the pluralist elections of 1957, the Assemblée Territoriale was made up of 35 deputies from the Union Soudanaise, section of the Rassemblement Democratique Africain  (US-RDA), the party of Modibo Keïta, and 5 deputies from the Parti progressiste soudanais  (PSP), of Fily Dabo Sissoko. In 1958, the Assemblée Territoriale was established as the Constituent Assembly of the Sudanese Republic which became the Assemblée Constituante de la République Soudanaise which bacame the Assemblée Législative de la République du Soudan It is this Assembly which, by Law No. 60-35 / ALRS, proclaimed the independence of the Sudanese Republic under the name of "Republique du Mali". After that, the Assemblée Législative de la République Soudanaise changed its name to become "Assemblée Nationale du Mali  ".


Force Armée






Garde Républicaine / Garde Nationale



Air Force


Armée de l’Air








On 17 september 1961 the Gendarmerie Nationale du Mali was completely freed after the Independence of Mali ib 1960 when it was called for the first time  with a big ceremony on the fields of the main barracks of the Balla Koné squadron of Faladié


Police Nationale



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© Hubert de Vries 2008.11.28 Updated 2008.12.22; 2020-06-03


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