Dogon country

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Our time in Mali started on a very sad note, with life proving hard for many loved ones at home, which in turn saddened us a lot. Dear little Kloe was run over by a car and ended up in ICU for several days with her life hanging by a thread, Zack’s shoulder operation turned out to be a much bigger one than we thought, and he had a real hard time organizing medical aids, payments and hospitals, I (Annaliese)lost my cousin whom I have not seen for many years and who died a sad death. Needless to say, our skies were grey and out hearts heavy; only the wise words of Rudolf gave us some peace, he said that we can only help them if we do not return to Cape Town to help as they (him and Zack) need to learn to live and deal with life. We have always been there to help them on the way and now is their time to do it on their own. So, we listened, and realized that once again we can only learn; from Africa, from life, from our kids and to borrow the words from the Dire Straits' song “Why worry”:

Why worry, there should be laughter after pain

There should be sunshine after rain

These things have always been the same

So why worry!

There is so much to share about the next few days of our trip that you guys will just have to bear with us, we will share a little bit of history, a little bit of tradition and a little bit of our personal experiences.(Read it in instalments if you have to!!!)

The escarpment, we arrived from the bottom and climbed to the top.

The Dogon live mostly on the Bandiagara escarpment which is a 200 km wedge of sandstone cliffs running from Ouo in the southwest to the Honbori mountains in the southeast. Below the cliffs the sandy Gondo-Seno plains stretch southeast to Burkina Faso, whilst the rocky cliffs themselves rise over 100 metres to the plateau above. We left Bankass early in the morning, to make the most use of the cooler morning weather. After a 2 hour trip through the plains, we approached this majestic sight on our little horse cart and the first sight of the villages truly took our breath away.

Our first means of transport(Amber the horse!) Second, hiking in the blazing sun!

Archeological research has uncovered caves dating to the 3rd century BC dug into the cliffs. However, there seems to be a large historical gap between this culture and the next known inhabitants of the cliffs, the Tellem, who arrived in the 11th century. Often referred to as “pygmies” due to their small size, they built distinctive cellular houses in sheltered crevices and beneath overhangs on the cliffside, where the sun and rain were least able to penetrate. Some of their architecture is still visible today, impossibly high up in the cliffs. Nobody is 100% sure how it was possible to build these, but the most logical theory is that the forest reached so high and they therefore reached the cliffs via the treetops.

Totally in touch with themselves, young and old An old timer

It is thought that the Dogon people arrived in the area in the 15th century, and probably lived together with the Tellem for a few hundred years, before the Tellem migrated to the area now known as Burkina Faso. The Dogons had, and still have, a strong religious culture, and their appearance in the area was probably to escape Muslim expansionism as they were animist. Their distinctive stone villages and tall granaries are scattered over 3 distinct areas, the cliff itself, the plateau and the plains. They started off living in the cliffs where the houses are still today being used for storage as well as ceremonies. So the fetishes, masks and “religious” objects are all still clearly visible. Later they moved down to the plains as according to our guide, there was no reason to stay on the cliffs as the threat of war disappeared.

Proud home owner.Some of the graneries

Despite the unbearable heat (40 degrees in the shade) and the struggle to keep walking whilst you are covered in perspiration, we were impressed with this ancient culture in so many ways. Firstly, the granaries are different for men and women, The female version has 4 compartments and a middle section for storage of jewellery and other personal valuables. The male version is only one room! It seems they knew women quite well! Furthermore, their culture is so truly in tune with nature that we think is the reason for the survival of it for so many centuries. They built low stone divisions to prevent erosion (the rocks have to be broken by hand and then carried for kilometers to build these walls), they plant windbreaks to protect the crops, they rotate their crops of millet with beans and peanuts which maintain the nitrogen levels in the soil. The workload is equally shared between the sexes and for the first time in a Francophone country we saw the men actually working in the fields, and we mean , working hard!

The inside of the "Female" one Meeting place and underneath are the sacred drums used to call the meeting. Sadly for men only!!!!

The Dogon believe in a single god, Amma, who created the sun, moon, stars and the earth, and the first human couple, who produced 8 children, the Dogon ancestors. These ancestors did not get on with Amma and were sent back to earth, but the 7th came down before the 8th whom was angry as a result, turned into a snake and did his best to upset the work of the other 7. He was eventually killed by the people and that is why today, the place where the elders, strictly men only, have meetings and discussions (present in every village) The Togu-na, has a roof of 7 layers which represents 7 ancestors.

We interacted with them as much as we could and handed out Colanuts ( a Dogon delicacy, and apparently quite addictive) to the old men, which is all they wanted in return. They go about their daily lives undisturbed by the visitors, and the general feeling is one of peace and being in tune with their environment. Unfortunately , as in all cultures, the youngsters are not upholding the traditions on a daily basis, only for ceremonies and festivals, so it seems that sadly, even this ancient culture will not be around for many more years.

Malian Maltese Cross?Overnight hut and Village

We climbed up the escarpment once it was a bit cooler in the late afternoon and despite my fears, my back behaved well and we made the 6km walk in good time. The landscape changed to one similar to the Cedarberg, and we marveled at the stunning vistas. The houses in the village on top of the escarpment were mostly built of stone as soil seem to be on short supply. We settled down for the night on the rooftop of our hut under the stars until at 3 o’Clock we were woken by rain! Our trusted guide, Samba, however, made sure we had shelter and we spend the rest of the night in a hut.

Dogon hunter and some of his kill Our cow cart!!

We left early the next morning for the final stretch to Ende, Teli the oldest village and then finally Kani-Komboli, where we observed the market. We walked the first bit which was easy in the fresh morning air, took a cow cart for 5 kms, walked again for 5kms, which was truly hard as it was boiling hot with no movement in the air, so the next stop could not arrive soon enough! In Teli, we saw the ancient houses and granaries and were told about the “Sigi festival” This is the most important of the Dogon festivals, and celebrates life and new generations. It takes place every 60 years, as the Dogon believe that this is a lifespan. So you should never attend this festival twice. The next one will be in 2027. Samba also pointed out the burial places of the dead. The corpses are hoisted up the cliffs and then laid to rest on a level between the Tellem/Pygmy houses and the granaries, under heaps of stone. Well, all I can say is they have a stunning view, so they must enjoy their resting place!

The 3 layers, Pygmy houses, burial places and early Dogon houses.Uhm.. as I said , no vanity left (Stew insisted on this pic as payback for his Benin Shower Shot!!!)How is this for colour coding?

Our taxi and the spring chicken driver!!!!

After lunch and a welcome break, we made our way to the end of the trail, spent some time at the market, and took our final means of transport, a local taxi, filled with at least 20 yakking females driven by a 14 year old boy!! No problem……we made it back to Bankass in one piece, albeit filthy and exhausted.

Izak, ek het duisende pics, laat weet of ek moet mail want dit sal wonderlike skilderye maakxxx