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Photographs by
Christien Jaspars

The celebrations are almost ready to start. At daybreak the great mosque of Djenné will be plastered with new loam. The excited boys lug loads backwards and forwards, swept on by the rhythm of the drums.

They are already bringing the loam to the base of the mosque. The serrated silhouette casts itself against the swarthy heavens. In the darkness it seems as though human hands had kneaded it skywards from the ground. When the sun casts its first beams on this masterpiece of traditional adobe architecture, the fête de crépissage will erupt.

All age groups in the Djenné community are involved in the annual crépissage, the festival centred on the restoration of the loam. Besides having a cultural background, the repairs are also necessary: Adobe construction is a very labour intensive process. Hundreds of hands, working together, will apply a new coating of loam to the old mosque.
Text: Manette Zeelenberg

The sound of drums surges through the moonless night. Laughter and screams echo to and fro. The hollow thud of 25 pairs of feet hurrying through the dusty streets nears audibly. Suddenly, a group of young men with wicker baskets atop their heads materialises between the adobe dwellings. Some of the boys have enamel containers slung around their hips. Smeared hands betray the contents: loam.

The application of a new loam plaster coating to the great mosque of Djenné is an annual folk festival in Mali, West Africa. A significant part of the Djenné community is involved in the restoration, which forms the focus of a celebration: La fête de crépissage.

The excitement is tangible in the town. I am lodging in a bricklayers house in the Yoboukaina district of Djenné. From my sleeping place on the roof it is possible to hear the grumbling of one or two people kept awake by the commotion.