Flying pygmies...

Trip Start Jan 06, 2007
Trip End Feb 12, 2007

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Flag of Mali  ,
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Am writing this by the light of my super new torch (1 pound 50 folks!!) and some lantern light.

Am in Ende - the rather appropriately named Dogon village where we're staying the night. We being a really nice group: Rick, an American who is a dead ringer for Woody Allen (espeically being Jewish, a New Yorker with black ciruclar specs and a beret); Eleanor and Valarie, a mother-daughter combo whom I previously ran into at thefestival and at Timbuktu; and Shirley, a black Canadian.

We're using Hasim as our guide to all things Dogon - the same guy that Laura, Patrick and Thea used and he is great. He's a giant bear of a man with a laugh to match. His English is pretty good, he knows what he's doing, he has a great collection of riddles, and most importantly, he's arranged it so taht the car follows our route meaning that we only carry the absolute bare minimum (which somehow always seems to be more for me than anyone else). I leave the hard core trekking to crazy people.

To recount events; yesterday, got back from Djenne very late having waited the whole afternoon for teh bush taxi to leave. The Monday market was fun and a great slice of Malian life but the good and the bad thing about it was that it was for Malinas, not for tourists. Managed to buy loads of batteries and purple nail varnish (!) so very happy. Just need to find time to give myself a well-deserved manicure.

The good thing about waiting for the taxi was bumping into the others. Otherwise, I'm not entirely sure what I wouldhave done. The thought of just going by myself is a bit daunting - nost because I don't trust Hasim but mostly because it' less intense and less social when there's other people there. It some how works out for the best, I suppose...

Anyway, got back to Mac's Refuge round 9pm to find that the dog had returned after his 3 day epic adventure. I still believe it somehow involves a female (don't all epic adventures?) but can't have turned out that well as the poor thing was limping and very very morose. Definitely a love affiar gone wrong.

Went back to Manke Te for a very late dinner with Rick and had a lovely walk back - it's all red dirt tracks with lamposts on one side and telephone posts and sheer darknes on the other. Rick mentioned that it reminded him of South Dakota and I can see what he means. Not ahta I've ever been there but it really does not feel like West Africa. Althouth saying taht, on the way to the restaurant, we saw many men - both young and old - reading the koran undr the lights. Its quiet and rather sweet to see.

Anyway, back to Dogon.

The first village we visited was apparently the fist Dogon village to convert to Islam. They had fled the Madinkas (I believe) toescape conversion to Islam by the sword only for a miricle to happen in their village (something about a mosque appearing overnight) for them to convert anyway. Kind of want to ask why the miricle couldn't have happened before the whole fleeing thing but sensed it wasn't the moment.

The village itself was a mixture of stone and brick-like substance and we walked around saying "Iniche" to everyone we met there - that being the beginnings of the "how are you" greeting duet. I call it a duet but really, the other person's repsonse is not qctually required - each person says their bit in a bit of a sing song voice - staying in the same vicinity as the other person being optional.

We then piled back into the car and went to the escapement proper which is basiclaly where all teh tourists go when they go to teh Dogon country. We startedat teh bottom (at the wonderfullly named "Djiguibombo"} which is a sligthly less touristy route. Although as that is according to teh Lonely Planet so...

That village was unique in that it had a church, a mosque and an animist quarter (or third?). It was also full of small mud huts with straw roofs which we deduced were graineries due to their raised nature and the "door" being very high up. Though how clever the vermin are that they need to put the door that far up is quicjk a scary prospoct.

Then came the fun part - scrambling down the escarpment. As you've proably all had experience in the fun to be had scrambling down and over rocks, don't need to elaborate. Just wanted to mention the really cool rock formations - for example huge slabs of rock that had obviously fallen down centuries ago due to the force of the water comging through during the rainy season. Wouldn't have liked to be anywhere around when that happened.

Also, the baobab trees. They are the strangest trees ever - they look like they'bve been planted upside down. Very cool effect. For some reason, it reminded me of "The little Prince"; Have a vague memory of bao constrictors and Baobab trees. Answers on a postcard please.

Thenwe came to Tele which is the famous bit of Dogon country. You have a villagedown below which is similar to other villages excpet for having more touts. You soon discover why when you look at at the escarpement and see "houses" buillt inot the escarpement itslef. Mostof these structures are Dogon but a few belonged tothe Tellem, the so-called "flying pygmies" who pre-dated the Dogon. Not much is known about them except that they were hunters an that they were tiny from the evidence of their vase-like houses. According to Hasim, the Tellen were around when the whole plain was actually forest instead of savannah and so the escarpement would be covered in vines.  I still prefer my theory about them flying - and I don't like facts messing about with a good image. 

Hasim then gave us a brief introduciton to Dogon culture. First of all into the grainaries - men's granaries are just the structure itself whereas women's granaries are divided into 4 seperate sections. The reason is that men's grainaries just hold millett whereas women's grainaries hold other cash crops tosell at the market. My conclusion was that women were alot more practical than men and wanted more variety, but Hasim's was that women generally had more time to grow the cash crops as they shared the husband with others!! What an excuse for polygomy. If each guy has 2 or 3 wives, then goodness knows how there manages to be enough wompen to go around; Hasim didnýt' really seem to see the problem here.

Have to say that women here, like most places in the developing world, do a huge amount of the day to day work. Apart from being cheifs or blacksmithing or annoyng tourists, don't really see what men actually do here about from sitting around chewing kola nuts (horrible horrible things which are meant to have a slight intoxicating effect) and drinking beer. [OK, slight exaggeration but not by very much] Women collect water, pound millett, grow a variety of cash crops, cook, do the household chores and do this all while looking after the family.  And their views dont't matter as they believe what their husbands tell them to.   Don't get me started on  female circumcision and the utterly ridiculous religious (both animist and muslim) justifications for it.  Some traditions are not worth preserving and that's most definitely one.

There were some bas reliefs on the walls which Hasim explained, for example, the representations of snkes which showed how the Dogons saw the world as beingsurrounded by a huge snake with its tail in its mouth. Once it wakes up, the world wil explode so I for one wish it many conformtble years of peaceful repose.

He also pointed out the former lodgings of the former Hoganof the villange ie the "chief of chiefs". This guy is meant to be halfway betwen the world of teh living and the world of thedead so must remain pure. To do this, he cannot move much beyond his living areas, he must not be touched by even his family, and he mustonly be served by virgins as women whohave had sex are considered unpure. Not a great existence to my mind. Quite a dull one actually and I'm sure most of them probably went at least slightly insane. Although that could be the influence of th spirit world...

Anyway, we left th place and drove to Ende where we had a lovely diiner of cous cous and ashower under the stars. Am sleeping on the roof finally and it's actulaly loads of fun. Will have to do this more often.
Postscript - riddle me this:
"The one who makes it does not want it.
The one who wants it does not use it.
The one who uses it does not know he's using it.
What is it?"
No one has posted anything into the guestbook so here's your chance.  An unspecified souvenir to anyone who gets it first.
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