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Photographs by
Christien Jaspars
Many houses and mosques in Mali are still built from loam, and Djenné is famous for its tradition of adobe construction. The bricklayers have formed a guild the Barey-ton. The oldest guild members oversee the crépissage and determine the time at which the festival will take place. It is always held between two rainy periods.

Mali has an arid climate, with an annual period during which rain pours furiously from the sky. This causes a thin layer of loam to be washed off the houses. A new coating of loam has to be applied once every two to three years to prevent the houses from collapsing. However, the mosque is treated once a year. And this restoration occurs in the form of a great folk festival.

Labou, labou, loam, more loam, cries a bricklayer to one of the young helpers, who climbs up the wooden protrusions while balancing a basket of loam on his head. The mosque is adorned with boxwood sticks, stuck into the wall, arranged in groups according to a regular pattern. During the crépissage they provide the way to clamber to the top; decoration and scaffolding in one. Dozens of men, balancing on one or two bundles of sticks, stand at the walls applying loam. With legs apart or leaning against each other, a human net embraces the mosque.

Baskets of loam are passed upwards over the heads. Laughter and singing rises above the roll of the drums. Mud spatters all around, dripping down hands and arms. As the day progresses the men will take on the same grey-beige colour as the building. The guttering of the great square building is bordered by dozens of parabola shaped loam spires.
These are worked on by the experienced artisans during the crépissage. They use elegant strokes to apply the easily spreadable loam as evenly as possible.

With their long legs, the young girls almost sprint up through the mosque with water. The hectic pace causes the water to slop out of the buckets and cans over their laughing faces. It doesnt matter, it is lovely and cool. They support the load on their heads with one hand, while lifting their panje with the other to avoid stumbling on the steps. Each time they pass the drummers they quicken their step and one of them turns for a moment, just a moment, and wiggles her backside subtly. She gets a wink in return.

I descend the stairs of the mosque with my camera above my head. Small boys with baskets on their heads walk towards me, some bumping against me. Blobs of loam fly here and there. It is not easy to keep my camera out of the fray. This is the first time that I have dared to attend the crépissage with my camera. I have to work along with everyone else in order to be able to take photographs of the event. Peeping toms are not allowed to enter the mosque. I believe that I shot a fantastic picture of a bricklayer in full flow on the roof.

Now there is mud on my lens and my attempt to clean it with muddy fingers only seems to make matters worse. I carry my camera in a pouch on my stomach and am wearing a long T-shirt in an attempt to protect it from the water splashing out of the buckets that I carry on my head. It doesnt really help much. The water drips down my face, and the shirt plasters itself to my body more and more.