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For Tabaski holiday in Mali, families pay to sacrifice sheep

Some rams sell for $900, more than what most in Mali earn in a year.

“People have no money in Timbuktu,” Beidoudji said. “There is more supply than demand, so the prices have to come down.”

As to prove Beidoudji’s point, an SUV driver trying to find his way through the sheep clusters joked: “There are too many sheep here. People must buy them.”

Tabaski is the most important holiday in Mali — a country that is 90 percent Muslim — surpassing even Eid ul-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, according to Mahamadou Haidara, an imam in Bamako, Mali's capital.

Fathers who can afford it must buy one sheep — or several if they are polygamous — as well as new clothes and shoes for their wives and children. Sheep prices vary depending on the size and breed and can reach up to $900 for the most sought-after rams. Some Malians save all year long to be able to buy a sheep that they will keep inside their house for days in anticipation of the feast.

Tabaski imposes a heavy financial burden on Malians. Mali, a country that is mostly desert and semi-desert, ranks among the 25 poorest nations in the world. For the first time since 2000, the country’s gross domestic product decreased this year to $8.76 billion, or just $641 per capita.

To reduce the stress levels of Malian men, Le Republicain, a Malian newspaper, advised women to go easy on purchases of clothes, jewels and expensive hair appointments.

“There is no need to be capricious and demand the impossible from your husband to celebrate the holiday,” the newspaper recommended. “To behave as a good wife, you can choose simplicity given the state of the economy of our country.”