Trek through the Dogon country
06.18.2009 43 °C
When I last left off I was still in Mali having just arrived safely back in Sevare after our trip to Timbuktou. After a halfs day rest we took off to Bandiagara to begin our trek into the Dogon villages. Our tour leader Speedy brang us to Songo on the way to gain additional insight into the Dogon culture. The dogon people are of animistic religion, and resisted Islamic missionaries centuries ago. Their calendar follows a 5 day week and astronomy is important and well known in their culture, particulary the star Sirius. We also learned of ceremonial circumcision methods. The following morning we put on real shoes and socks for the first time since the Atlas mountains and began our journey. The first day was a leisurely walk down the Bandiagara Escarpment of which the high vantage point above the valley offered the most incredible scenery thus far on the trip. Along the way we visited Begnimato, had the chiefs son show us the traditional hunting methods (followed by a few girly kiwi screams when the rifle went off), and stopped in the colourful market of Dourou after lunch before taking a midday siesta to beat the heat before heading into nambori by dusk to set up camp on the roof to sleep beneath the stars. We were able to witness the ‘womens dance’ that evening as well which is performed at the end of the harvest season. The next morning we took off for the second leg of our journey, and were lucky enough to have porters and a donkey cart provided to lug our gear in the 42 degree heat. In the afternoon we had the extreme privilege of watching a traditional dogon mask dance. We all agreed that it was the highlight of the trip by far (and writing this 2 months later I can still attest to that). The ceremony was approximately 45 minutes and was vibrant beyond belief. Some masks towered 14’ high while other dancers walked on stilts secured to their legs which would at the very least break their legs if they fell. The dance is not performed regularly, we were only so lucky to have it organized for us due to the size of our group. It was the first ceremony for many of the young boys dancing and as so an important rite of passage.
The mask dance also made Sarah’s birthday the best ever, and we continued to celebrate into the evening after continuing our trek for the day at the village of Ireli. After another night under the stars (not quite as picturesque when you imagine 26 people snoring in close proximity…) we took off for the last leg of the journey which meant an uphill climb back up the escarpment. Some wussed out and took a mototaxi ride part way back while about half of us completed the journey to the top on foot. We were also able to visit some of the old abandoned cliff-face dwellings traditionally inhabited by the dogon people; an animal is traditionally sacrificed before visiting which we saw evidence of. It should be noted that it is not possible to traverse the entire route by vehicle and so everything brought in (i.e. coca cola and beer) is carried in. Along the trail there is also limited electricity making the region much more authentic and the drinks very warm. Overall we traversed approx 30-40km, hard to know for sure as our leader speedy was known the fudge the distances in an attempt to ease our minds at the task at hand in the blistering heat. After a very uncomfortable exhaust infused van-ride back to bandiagara we were greeted to a buffet and live mali music. In the morning we took off for the Burkina Faso border. All in all Mali has become the favorite African country of many. The dogon trip was the highlight for sure, and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The people of Mali have been most welcoming and will be missed. Alas, the journey must contimue and there are still 20 odd countries to explore!