Mahadra, a community system for transmission of traditional knowledge and oral expressions


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Inscribed in 2023 (18.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Conservation Nationale du Patrimoine (CP), Ministère de la Culture, de la Jeunesse, des Sports et des Relations avec le Parlement, Mauritanie, 2022

Mahadra, sometimes called ‘the university of the desert’, is a community framework for education and socialization in which traditional knowledge and literary expressions are transmitted, mainly through listening and memorization. Dating back centuries, it has become a key feature of Mauritanian society and has led to the reproduction, recreation and continuation of Mauritanian popular culture. The classes take place under a tent, covered with mats or carpets and cushions on the floor. Mahadra is open and available to everyone, regardless of gender, age or social background. The topics covered include language and traditional literature, religious sciences and Sufism. Students also acquire knowledge about the universe and nature, including knowledge about rain, the desert, medicinal plants, animal tracks and using stars for navigation. A transmission system in and of itself, mahadra is characterized by community commitment and trust and is based on a moral and social contract between the teachers and their students. Rooted in Mauritanian society and based on oral communication, it is a form of expression that promotes socialization, communication, integration and social cohesion. It is also intricately linked to the transmission of Mauritanian poetry and storytelling, providing a sense of continuity, belonging and shared cultural identity for the communities concerned.