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Dama: Mali’s Gift Economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
2nd August 2009


Yes magazine has an interesting article on Mali’s gift economy:

“In one study in Bamako, each person gave an average of 1.5 gifts per day. Another study found that gifts account for 18% of total expenditures among Malian villagers, comprising the largest single category. Presents are passed along everywhere: a small household decoration, change to buy a school notebook. When a family’s harvest of millet or peanuts is ready, they pass on a portion to the homes around them. If a household is hosting guests, neighbors will typically send over food. … Lines of giving are complex and often circuitous.

“You never know how it will come back. But you have to give because you can’t let the cord break with you,” explains IEP backbone Maria Diarra. She tells of helping a man in the community some years back. Now the man’s sister brings Maria’s family gifts of charcoal and food, gives them rides, and visits whenever she comes to Kati.

“Maybe the link gets broken in a larger community,” says Coumba. “But when you are in a community where everyone believes that, it really does work.”

Dama is under threat by the neoliberal marketplace that is converting much of the gifting sphere to exchange relationships, monetizing the economy, and placing a dollar value on many forms of worth. West Africans’ challenge today is to keep dama thriving despite the expansion of markets, advertising, and cash transactions. A canary in the proverbial coal mine, dama is an indicator of how well cultural traditions can hold up under conditions of globalization.

What is certain is that dama will survive in at least a subterranean way, as do other gifting and solidarity economies throughout the world. Also certain is that dama and other non-market economies will remain strong and viable only if organized movements vigorously defend them. …”

6 minutes video on the same topic, worth watching:

(thanks to Paul Fernhout for the suggestion)

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