Les Mineurs du désert
Miners of the Desert
Illustrated by Yacouba Diarra. Métiers d’Afrique (Crafts from Africa) series. Bamako, Mali: Le Figuier, 2005. 30 p. ISBN 2-84258-086-9. Ages 8 and up.
Publisher: Le Figuier
This is an intimate account of the salt trade, which has been vital to the region’s economy for centuries. In the story, a caravan of miners and dromedaries travel for weeks across the desert to the salt mines, hundreds of kilometres away, in Taoudénit in northern Mali. Work is exhausting under the sun in these big open-air mines, with the salt burning hot. The men work for months, cutting the salt into identical bars. On the return journey, the miners travel the long way back under the sun to deliver the salt bars to their employer, who has a big store in town. The bars are cut again for sale to the retailers, who will sell them in the market. The miners buy supplies and clothing for their families, and then settle home for some months.
This is the seventh and latest picture book in Métiers d’Afrique (Crafts from Africa), a series that focuses on how traditional African crafts are transmitted from one generation to the next. Started in 2003, this series fills a gap by offering young readers information on the heritage of crafts, medicine, and other knowledge. The back cover states: “You don’t often hear about Africans’ everyday lives. Métiers d’Afrique series wants to show how millions of men and women in the Black Continent struggle to lead an honest, decent life, thanks to work.”
The books about the everyday industrious lives of mostly women are La Teinturière (The Dyer), Le Tisserand (The Weaver), La Fileuse (The Spinner), La Savonnière (The Soap-Maker), and La Potière (The Potter); and about men Le Forgeron (The Blacksmith) and Les Mineurs du desert (Miners of the Desert).
Les Mineurs du desert, like the other titles, is a hardcover, large-format picture book (28 x 22 cm), with double-page colour illustrations. Yacouba Diarra’s colourful illustrations portray naturally the landscape, people, and architecture of the region. The brief text, reduced to the minimum and essential information, is boxed neatly into the pictures.