Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dogon: It's hot!

Our adventures in Mali continued with a trip to Dogon Country. The Dogon are a group of people who fled from invading Muslim armies about a thousand years ago because they did not want to convert to Islam. So, they went in search of a safe place to live and found it for many centuries in the cliffs of eastern Mali. Like some Native Americans of the Southwest United States, they found it quite handy to build homes in the cliffs that were difficult to access and easy to defend. More interesting in this case, however, is that a group of pygmies lived there when the Dogon arrived. My interpretation is that the Dogon learned everything about living in the unforgiving environment from the Pygmies (the Telim) before throwing them out. The Dogon claim that the Dogon population was growing and started cutting down all the fruit and nut trees that the Pygmies ate, so the Pygmies just decided to leave one day. Okay, now to the pictures.

Dogon Country now consists of maybe two dozen small villages of Dogon people. Nearly all of them are divided into three neighborhoods: Animist (the old beliefs), Muslim, and Christian. The Muslims eventually did get to the people, particularly as they moved down from the cliffs to farm and slowly began converting. Apparently, the Christians came in the last 50 or 60 years, and do well in increasing their numbers when there are droughts or other catastrophes. We were there on the Saturday before Easter, so the Christians were busy preparing for Easter feasts. A variety of monkeys was on the menu. Also, note that they still decorate their homes with monkey skulls like the animists. Old traditions die hard. If monkey isn't to your liking, you might also try the wild cat or the giant monitor lizards on the menu. Also, at the bottom you can see the muzzle of the gun used to hunt these. I wish I had a better picture because it looks just like it is out of a museum.
Here is a picture of us together looking out over the plains where the Dogon do most of their farming. You might note that we look hot and sweaty in this picture, so let's talk about the heat for a minute. During the day, it was generally well above 120 degrees. We can't say how much hotter because our thermometer only went to 120 degrees, but we think it was quite a bit hotter based on it topping out the thermometer. Fortunately, it is very dry, but that does not change the fact that it is really hot. At night, it falls to maybe 80, but most of the mud buildings then emit heat and make it hotter than that inside the rooms.
This is the fruit of the baobab tree. We will save the details for the food post, but it is a really fun fruit. We also learned that the baobab tree has both male and female trees, with the male being much smaller and having fruit only once per year while the female is huge and fruits twice per year. Yes, I am a nerd who actually cares about such things.
Some great rock formations exist in the cliffs where the Dogon live. This is a good example.
We don't really take enough people pictures because we are always afraid they might object. Starting in Dogon, I decided that I didn't care and we would delete pictures if they complained. In this case, the kid was asleep, so he couldn't complain. Call me immoral if you like, but I think it's a good picture.
Tara tried to capture me as I gave back this boy's shoe, but the most important part is that this boy was actually riding around on a cow. For those thinking about trying it, they don't really seem to go in a straight line. It reminded me a lot of the cow racing game for Wii.
Here is a long distance shot of some cliff dwellings. This gives some perspective on how large the cliffs are. You can see how the Dogon had to climb up all the rocks to get to their houses in the cliffs.
One of the Dogon villages that we visited was called Ende, which is also what every single person in Dogon Country thought my name was when I said Andy, so we took a picture of me with my "namesake" sign. Incidentally, Ende will also be the sight of a huge mask festival that takes place every 60 years to elect the new religious leader of the Dogon animists. This will occur in 2027, so buy your tickets now. Space seems limited. We didn't get the full story about how the new religious leader is elected, but at least part of it seems to be a drinking competition, with any man who passes out being disqualified.
The animists have their town hall meetings in these short little covered areas called tagundas, or something like that. This is so that if they get angry at another person and try to jump up they will hit their head and look stupid. So, instead of being able to get angry, they now wear funny hats that they turn to face someone if they are angry at the person.
This is some kind of bird that the guide didn't know the English for and that I don't remember the French or Dogon for. However, they migrate from Europe and they come just before the rainy season (ie the hot season). They are very fun looking birds.
This picture is from inside the ogon's home. The ogon is the religious leader chosen every 60 years, but once he dies, the new one isn't elected until the next 60 year party. (If by some miracle the ogon is still alive after 60 years, the party gets cancelled and everyone is disappointed.) This scene depicts a man on the left, a sacred crocodile in the middle (sacred because it leads people to water), and one of my favorite aspects of Dogon mythology on the right, the Sigi, which is a powerful beast with the ability to give man much power. If you find it, it will promise to give you tons of power if you don't kill it. You are suppose to accept the power and then immediately kill the Sigi so that it can't come and get back its power when you aren't watching. Asked to describe a Sigi, the guide described it as "like a big cow".
This is a close up on some dwellings. First, note the littlest places up at the top. This is where the Telim pygmies lived before they decided to leave. Some are burial areas where they hoisted bodies up with ropes to bury them and others are where they lived. The areas below that are where the Dogon lived. These buildings have been abandoned for hundreds of years, but are in decent shape. The buildings sitting up on wooden platforms are granaries for storing food and grains. The others are homes.
The kola nut is the center of much social life in Dogon Country. We had to buy a huge bag of them to hand out to people that we met. They look like the picture below and are mostly loved for their high caffeine content. The taste and texture is almost exactly likely a slightly rotten raw potato. People love them and it is common to bring some as a gift when you visit people's homes.
Adding a new form of transport to our list, we got to ride on this cow cart for a few miles. A cow cart was not actually high on our list of transport we would like to take until we saw one, at which point it came close to the top of the list. Now at the top of the list is riding an ostrich.
Local women in both Dogon country and elsewhere get together to pound whatever needs to be pounded. In most cases, that is manioc, the starchy root vegetable that is a main part of the local diet. They all pound together and apparently gossip a lot (according to our guide). Note the baobab trees behind them.
Getting to Burkina Faso from Dogon Country proved difficult. Our driver dropped us in the town of Bankass (high on Tara's list of favorite city names), where we waited about 5 hours for a minivan to come and take us to the border. In defense of transport, a previous shared taxi driver had offered just as we arrived to throw out two other passengers and give us their seats if we would pay four times the fair price, so I guess we could have waited less. In any case, we then waited for another 45 minutes and apparently they had overfilled the van and we were the extras because people were about to riot that we were taking seats that we shouldn't have been given. So, they pull us out of the car and say they have a better solution. Voila! We rode to border in the back of an ambulance that was going about 80 miles per hour down the dirt road all the way. If you needed an ambulance in Dogon country that day, sorry, but we were already using it.
Sadly, by the time we got to the border, it was closed, so we got stuck in Koro, Mali. Not really a town you want to get stuck in, but we at least made it the following day. Dogon country, despite being hotter than the sun, was culturally interesting and asthetically pleasing. We recommend a few days there if you happen to be passing through Mali.

1 comment:

  1. The NYT did a story on Dogon country recently. It sounded interesting, but almost impossible to get there. Glad you did! Also, I tried kola nut in Hawaii. Maybe the only vegetable for which I could not even tolerate one bite. I spit it out. Disgusting.