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Continuing our series about doors from around the world, this week’s blog is about elaborate wooden door locks from Mali.


The locks we use on our front doors are usually small and functional, simply there to keep out intruders and unwanted guests from our homes. However, the Bamana people of Mali, West Africa, used their door locks for other reasons, too.


The Bamana who?

The Bamana people are the largest ethnic minority in Mali. They are farmers, who traditionally live in houses made of mud, with wooden doors. In the past, they used big, elaborate wooden door locks to protect their homes.


Who made them?

These special door locks couldn’t be bought in a shop or at a market. Instead, they were handmade by local blacksmiths. In Bamana society, blacksmiths are seen as healers, and as men who can control nyama, the energy or life force that the Bamana people believe exists in every living thing. Hence, the door locks were considered to protect against the supernatural as well as against physical threats.


Love lock down?

Traditionally, a door lock was given as a wedding present to the bride from her parents, before she moved into a new home with her husband. The lock symbolized fertility and also the longevity of the marriage.


And now?

These locks are not commonly used in Mali anymore. Modern metal locks became popular after Malian soldiers returned home with them after fighting in World War II, so the traditional door locks were gradually replaced.


Unlocking secrets

Next time you lock your front door, consider the hidden meanings that locks have in different cultures. Who knew that a door lock could reveal so many secrets about a society?


*Text adapted from an exhibit curated by Matthew Ruddle at the Logan Museum of Anthropology, Beloit, Wisconsin, USA. Thank you to the museum for granting permission to use an image of one of the door locks in their collection. For more information, please visit:



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