The Dogons live along the Bandiagara Escarpment, which is essentially a
cliff that separates two relatively flat regions of different altitude.
One of the best known things about the Dogons is their ancient knowledge
of the stars. From the Lonely Planet Guide: "(the Dogon Agrarian
Calendar) has an eerie Twilight
Zone mystique to it: it's thought to be based on the orbital cycles
of a white dwarf star that is invisible to the naked eye. It was only discovered
in the 1960s by a high powered telescope, despite the fact that the Dogons
had been using the star as a seasonal marker for more than a millennium."
Even if you have never used a guide in your travels before, you will
need a guide (preferably Dogon!) who can navigate you through the confusing
taboos. One rock may be just an ordinary rock, while the rock next
to it is very sacred and you break taboos by touching (or sitting on) it!
And there is no way someone who is not of that village would know the difference.
Photographs of places and objects are generally allowed, but people can
only be photographed with the permission of each individual - you will
therefore see few photos of Dogons in the following.
Of course, first we had to get there - which was no simple task.
Below is the road we had to travel to get to our destination city of Songha,
and one of our stops along the way. We developed brake problems with
one of the Toyotas. The fellow standing on the right is the Master
Mechanic who directed all of the apprentices(?) Only once did he
actually touch anything, and that only after it had been fully prepared
Eventually we reached our hotel in Songha. The next morning we started
a walking tour just as the sun was rising, to avoid the heat of the day.
We started from above the escarpment and had the services of a local Dogon
guide in addition to Youssouf:
Despite appearances in the photo, he was a very friendly guy and shared
a beer with us at the hotel at the end of the day. One of our first
stops was at a Divination Table and the "seer"(? - don't know their official
word) who interprets the results. The square within the rocks is
somehow laid out with "questions" before night fall. When "the foxes
visit" (maybe because of food placed there???) some of the sticks will
be knocked over or otherwise moved, and from these the answers can be divined.
Eventually we reached the escarpment and followed a trail down towards
a village and the valley. The photo on the right is of some ancient
Dogon dwellings when they were living in the cliffs to avoid invaders.
Eventually we came into the village from above. Photos had to be
chosen carefully to avoid people (easier than asking permission)
The next part of the trek was a long walk across the lowland desert to another
village where we would have lunch. This is one last backwards view
of the village in the photos above:
Along the walk we came upon some rock cutters, who allowed us to take their
picture (for a price). Part of a rock wall they were building can
be seen in the background:
By the time we reached the village where we had lunch it had gotten quite
hot in the mid-day sun. After the meal we were surprised when they
brought out sleeping mats! We all napped in the cool shade while
waiting for the mid-day heat to dissipate.
Around mid-afternoon we got up and continued our trek, which led back up
the escarpement. A stone staircase made this part of the trip easier:
Back at the hotel our Dogon guide joined us for a beer and merriment.
The next day was mostly returning over roads we had already traveled.
We did take one side trip down the escarpment again and climbed up to a
rock formation. The road down the escarpment was amazing - concrete
supported by hand-built rock walls - extending for several miles.
But one of the more memorable events of the day was the failure of the
brake system on the same vehicle that had been worked on previously.
This time it was determined to be the master cylinder that failed.
The photo on the left shows the master cylinder being rebuilt on a rock
- the mechanic is on the left with Youssouf and the drivers standing.
The photo on the right was in one of the two auto parts stores we had to
look in to find the right parts.
These folks don't mess around with any parts catalogs. The mechanic
brought the old parts along and they just started popping open boxes until
they found parts that matched! Toyotas are so well used that most
parts are not that hard to come by, even in the rural areas.
That pretty well wrapped up our trip. We did visit a few more
attractions on the way back to Mopti, such as this weaver and rock paintings,
but mostly we were horses to the barn on our way back to Bamako.
That's it. You can go back to