Dogon Mask Dance, Tireli, Mali, November 16, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dogon people are a favorite subject among anthropologists for their Animist religious beliefs which have survived despite being surrounded by other tribes that converted to Islam and for their elaborate rituals and ceremonies, most notable of which is the mask dance.  We were treated in Tireli to a re-creation of one such mask dance which is performed several times each year with some variations including at the start of the rainy season to bring about good rains, again after the harvest, and also once a year as a funeral ritual to commemorate the departure of the dead. 
The drumming commenced and the village elders gathered to sit and watch, as did some other villagers.  Grandpere had bought some kola nuts, a mild narcotic when chewed that's popular among the Dogons, in Bandiagara town to present to the village elders as a gift.  There were perhaps 18 or so dancers, some of whom were on stilts, all men and all masked.  The masks represent spirits, women, midwives, doctors, snakes, and antelopes, among others.  The dance went on for at least half an hour and included a frenzy of drumming and activity, and although it was put on as a show for us tourists it is supposedly an authentic re-creation of the ceremonial dance.  Wow, now this is the stuff great nightmares are made of!  Although their belief systems may have little in common I couldn't help but notice the superficial similarities between the costumes and dances to Hopi Kachinas in the southwestern U.S., a comparison reinforced by similarities in the landscaped of rock escarpments, mud villages, and cliff dwellings.

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