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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 07:36 GMT
Mali's 125-year-old woman
Hawa Sacko with her 95-year-old son
Hawa is possibly the world's oldest person

At the ripe old age of 125 years, Hawa Sacko is no longer able to get about on her own.

So her only surviving son, who himself is a spry 95 years old, along with one of her great-great grandsons, carry her out to meet us.


I'm older than all the other living people I know

Hawa Sacko
I had gone to visit her - Mali's oldest person - to find out more about a life that spans three centuries.

They place her gently on the cloth spread under a neem tree in front of her mud house on the outskirts of Bamako.

Once she is comfortably settled against the tree and greetings are finished, I ask her how she feels about being the oldest person in Mali, maybe even the world.

"I can't possibly be older than my mother," she laughs.

"But as for me being older than other living people, it's true I'm older than all the other living people I know.

"But I can't say anything about all those people I don't know."

Memories

Hawa Sacko has outlived all but one of her seven children.

She has three grandsons and ten great-grandchildren.


When the white man came, they were even worse

Hawa Sacko
She can't count all her great-great-grandchildren, but she does know that she has one great-great-great-granddaughter.

The only thing keeping her out of the Guinness Book of Records, where the oldest living person on earth is 10 years her junior, is the lack of a birth certificate.

But her vivid memories and firsthand accounts from the late 1800s of the West African resistance fighter Almamy Samory Toure and the arrival of French colonists, allow social workers to put her age at 125, going on 126.

"I remember so clearly when Almamy Toure was advancing, I was pregnant with my second son. When they told us he was coming, I was terrified," she told me.

"It was said he opened the stomachs of pregnant women to see what was inside, he killed his own child for disobeying him, and he burned children over a grill, he called them grilled groundnuts."

"When the white man came, they were even worse. You couldn't run away, we were afraid, even the children were afraid.

"To capture you they came right up to your house and even broke down your wall. We sacrificed sheep for them and gave them the meat to eat, and they gave it to their horses."

Longevity

Hawa Sacko says she has been to a hospital only once, and then because someone cast a bad spell on her, not for any physical illness.

While her ears and eyes are weak, despite her frailness, her mind and her spirit are still strong and active.

And when I asked her what secrets she could share about her longevity, she told me there were no secrets at all, she did nothing special, ate normally, and kept her faith in God, whom she credits for her long and healthy life.

See also:

16 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Dec 02 | Scotland
17 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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