Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trip to Dogon, Djenne - 2001

Day One – December 26
About 235 km east from Bamako, Ségou is one of Mali’s larger, more important cities. Located on the Niger River, Ségou has the potential for economic importance. It was the capital for French occupation, the location for the Office du Niger. This project sought to provide France with raw materials such as cotton. Although a dam was built, the canals (which were dug by forced labor) were never finished; cotton was abandoned, with rice and sugarcane being planted in its stead.

Ségou seemed much less busy than Bamako. Donkey carts hauling sacks of grain were quite common on the streets. Fewer cars and mopeds were present. Especially near the wharf and river, there were several small shops and vendors wanting to sell you arts and crafts, including imitation Dogon pieces. Tuareg vendors were especially prevalent on the streets, wanting to sell small boxes and knives. In the evening we went to the wharf where we saw a rather nice sunset.

A small village about 10 km away from Ségou along the road to Bamako, Ségoukoro is the original site from where Bambara kings ruled a kingdom that stretched for thousands of kilometers across West Africa in the 18th century. A typical Malian Bambara village, composed of walled mud brick houses, the village still only has 1500 people.
I was surprised to see how simple the village was, being that it had such an important role. Aside from Biton Coulibaly’s tomb (founder of the kingdom), there were few signs to indicate the village’s importance. We met the chief, a descendant of Coulibaly.
Walking through the village, we saw the village’s three mosques, one built by Coulibaly for his Islamic mother – the king himself was animist. The newest mosque is used by the people for worship only on Fridays.

Day Two - December 27

Along the longer trek of the trip, we stopped at San. Although not mentioned in the guidebooks, San has a cooperative that makes beautiful mudcloth. In fact, the designs and technique were some of the most impressive boologan cloth I’ve seen. Because the end of Ramadan happened to fall on this day, we were unable to see the demonstration. On the way back, we saw an abbreviated version.

Mudcloth “Bologan”
The long strips of cloth are woven by local weavers using a sort of backstrap loom and operated using the feet. The cloth is dyed yellow using the leaves of the acacia tree, which breaks down into a juice. The cloth is then set to dry.
Next, black is applied using local mud. A toothbrush is a common applicator. After this color is dry, the reddish color is then applied. This color comes from resin from the anea tree’s bark. The white paste is a mixture of bleach, local soap, and homo. In San, this brilliant white is applied with a squeeze bottle.

I learned that the cooperative in San uses no stencils. The designs are varied and depend on the artistic freedom and creativity of the makers. The strips are handsewn before the designs are painted.

Day Three – December 28

Situated on an island in the Niger Inland Delta with a population of around 10,000, Djenne is one of Mali’s pre-eminent tourist attractions. Named a Wold Heritage Site in 1988, the city has taken great care to preserve the mud architecture, including the world-famous mosque. You can easily feel what sub-saharan Africa must have felt like a century ago. At one time, Djenné was competing with Timbuktu as the western Sudan’s pre-eminent center of trans-Saharan trade and Islamic scholarship. Now it is more of an agricultural (and tourist) town.

Djenne’s most famous (and dominating) site is the mosque. It is actually the third mosque built at the site. The first mosque was built by the Soninke king Koï Kounboro who destroyed his palace in the 13th century for its construction. The second mosque was built in 1834 after the first one was left to ruin after it became “contaminated” by evil practices. The present mosque, built in 1905, is in the style of the original mosque. Three towers, each 11 meters high and topped with an ostrich egg, can be seen from quite a distance. In fact, the mosque is the worlds’ tallest mud building. It is built in two years with handmade mud bricks, formed with a banco mixture of soil, water, and straw/grasses which become ripe after on e month. Wooden beams protruding from the building serve an aesthetic purpose as well as scaffolding, to repair the building after the rainy season.

We arrived in Djenne on the day of the Ramadan feast. Everyone was wearing their new boubous, hats, and had their hair intricately done. Men had clean new haircuts, while the women and girls braided their hair, often with beads and other ornamental decorations. After walking through the narrow alleys, we climbed up to the top of a few buildings to get an aerial view of the city. From that vantage point, we could see the bustling crowds, the city’s many goats, and the mud architecture, either of Moorish or Tukulor style. The tops and windows of the buildings were especially impressive. In addition, the Tukulor houses have an overhang over the door, presumably to protect it from the rain.

Just 2km from the town of Djenne lies the ancient town of Djenne-Jeno. Although it is difficult to see much more than some remnants of the handmade bricks of a building and tons of pottery shards, the site is the oldest known sub-saharan city – dating back to the third century BC. A highly developed society of about 10,000 inhabitants, the site was mysteriously abandoned in the 14th century. Prior to visiting the site, we went to the Mission Culturelle, where we saw informative displays including examples of pottery, sculptures, and iron, which helped give an idea of what was discovered at the site in 1977.

Day Four – December 29

Built on three islands connected by dykes, Mopti is the country’s major route intersection. Peoples from many groups call Mopti home, including the Bambara, Songhai, Fula, Tuaregs (and their former slave – the Bellasha), Moors, Bozos, and Dogon. Once a Bozo fishing village, it has the largest river port in what was the French Sudan and now has about 100,000 people. Pirogues and their larger counterparts, pinasses, carry goods up and down the Bani/Niger River. Transport is even possible to Timbuktu during and after the rainy season.
While in Mopti, we walked over to the busy port. Here we saw slabs of salt and other items that had come from Timbuktu. People were boarding pinasses and pirogues, for either transportation or fishing. The Niger river as well as the converging Bani river is much higher than what the Niger is in Bamako. Fishing continues to be of great importance. We also walked through the older part of Mopti. While it too had mud architecture, neither the mosque or houses were as impressive as those in Djenne.

On the second day we took a pinasse to the opposite side of the Niger River, to a Tuareg slave village and then to a Bozo village. Like children at other villages, the Bozo children followed us, full of curiosity. However, their energy levels and demands for bics and bonbons far overshadowed any others. In the evening, we were treated to a glorious sunset while traveling by river back to the hotel.

Some interesting facts about the Niger
It is the 2nd longest river – 4,200km. Of which, 1,700km are in Mali.
The Niger runs through Buinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.
The River Senegal is 1,700 km, of which 700km are in Mali

Dogon Country

One of Mali’s most visited areas, the area known as Dogon Country is a rather geographically isolated area inhabited by about 350,000 Dogon people. Until the end of the colonial era, the Dogon were one of the few African peoples who had most successfully retained their culture and traditional ways of life. Even now, despite the presence of Islam and Christianity, Dogon peoples have largely held onto their animist beliefs.
Once the residence of the Tellem people, the Dogon moved into the Bandiagara escarpment around the 14th or 15th century. At first sharing the escarpment with the Dogon for a few centuries, the Tellem were pushed out and migrated to Burkina Faso. The tiny buildings of these short people can still be seen, perched safely in higher parts of the cliffs.

Day Five – December 30

We arrived in the larger town of Bandiagara, capital and starting point of Dogon Country. While waiting for the heat of the day to subside, we sat in the hotel’s sheltered area. Here we began speaking with a Dogon man, who happened to be a schoolmaster for the school in Kani-Goguna. Along with 4 teachers, he is entrusted with the care of 512 children from ages 6-18. Paper, books and supplies are sparse to non-existent. When presented with some donated art supplies and a few packs of paper, he was so excited and appreciative. This was echoed by the other schoolmasters who were also given supplies.
That afternoon, we drove 25 km to the village of Pelou. Here we were treated to two things – first a dance by the older women and then the masked dance for which we had come. The women danced collectively in a circle with intensity and vigor. Some were carrying instruments made from gourds; other had children strapped to their backs, and many were using plastic whistles. All were singing and swaying a pagne cloth back and forth. The masked dancers wore beautiful masks and clothing – the best that I saw in Dogon. Cowrie shells adorned many of the headresses and masks. A large variety of masked dancers were presented, but several were featured, including the fulani mask “women” on stilts, the maison masked dancers, and the Kanaga masked dancer. Such a visual feast it was on our first day in Dogon!

Day Six – December 31

After breakfast we departed for the village of Djiguibombo. Touring the village, we again gave away art supplies. Several important buildings of a dogon village were pointed out, including the menstruation house, the togu-na, and the house of the ginna bana. Women stay in the menstruation house during their periods because they are viewed as unclean during that time. Raised images of a man and woman interconnected were visible on the outside of the building. The togu-na is a low-roofed building where the older men gather to discuss village affairs, socialize and swap stories. Its design is intEndéd to defuse arguments, since no one can stand up. In some villages, the eight wooden pillars holding up the building were intricately carved. The village of Djiguibombo also contained an excellent ginna bana house, which houses the head of the extEndéd family or lineage. Taller than the average building, it contains an altar where the founders of the village are honored. On the outside of the front wall there were rows of eight niches representing the eight Dogon ancestors. Things were placed inside some of the niches. The granaries were built in the typical style – conical straw roofs, mud/rock walls, and raised stone legs to help protect the crops from vermin. Houses were built with rock and mud brick, a flat roof, and interlinked stone walls. A “ladder” made from a single piece of Y-shaped wood with chiseled “steps” was against a side of the homes, enabling access to the roof for sleeping, etc.

We then took the 4x4 over a combination of rocky and paved roads 5km to Kani Kambolé. Its sudanic mosque was framed by a grove of baobab trees. It also had an escarpment composed of Tellem houses and some abandoned Dogon houses.
In the afternoon we traveled 3km to Téli. It was here that we would spend our first night (and the last day of the year) under the brilliant assortment of stars. We were treated with a smaller mask ceremony as well. Before we settled in for the day, we went to nearby Endé, where we visited the market – a bustling crowed profusion of selling and goods under a canopy of trees. Tired, we went to bed long before the NewYear celebration. Roosters and donkeys ushered in the dawn of the first day of the year.

Day 7 – January 1

After breakfast we climbed the rocks until we came to the original village. Like many other villages along the escarpment, Téli gradually moved down a little lower, but very near their former habitations. The Tellem buildings were quite close, but still many were quite high and would require extensive climbing. Peering into a female granary, we saw the four large compartments with a smaller round one in the center. The females store crops and personal possessions such as jewelry, cloth and money. The make granary was more simple in style inside.

We then left and drove the 4km to Endé. Present along the escarpment were the Tellem buildings, although much higher than in Téli. The village seemed to bustle slightly more than Téli as well. I viewed more evidence of arts and crafts. Beautiful carvings could be seen in the togu-nas and on some doors. Mudcloths similar in style and quality to those in San were draped along the sides of the walls, much like flags. Indigo cloth was even made in the village. Some of the best woodcarvers presented their wares to sell – and were successful.

After the heat of the day, we began trekking on the sandy path between the already-harvested fields of millet. A horse cart carried our goods and provided an occasional rest from walking. Different views of the bizarre rock formation (a large rock with a tiny almost precarious base), the pierre unique d’ Endé were seen. Reaching the foot of the escarpment, porters carried our baggage as we climbed up to the top to the village of Begnimato. When we arrived, a masked dance celebration was just finishing up. Some non-masked dancers were also with them, imitating the dancers’ moves. Perhaps they are learning to become masked dancers? The evening was crowded and noisy, full of tourists who most likely came to see the dance.

Day 8 – January 2

Gathering our bags, we trekked 7km across rocky and sometimes steep terrain to the village of Dourou. After some needed rest, we began another trek to our final destination, Nombori. The terrain to this beautiful village was some of the most varied – and steep. We crossed small valleys, mounds of rocks, and then finally down the steep breathtakiing gorge. Looking through a “window” framed by the tall rocks of the gorge, I could see the sprawling plains – reddish dirt with green tops of trees interspersed. As I neared the bottom, I could finally see the village – and the drumming that I had been hearing. Rocky steps gave way to the sandy plains. Alongside us were incredible gardens, fenced in. The bounty of crops, including the famous Dogon onions, tomatoes, as well as calabashes, potatoes and other items were astounding. People were collectively working together to water and tend to the crops. The people of Nombori seemed to be very happy and content. Dancing and singing occurred past dark. What a wonderful sound to sleep by!

Day 9 – January 3

We awoke to an obnoxious chorus of roosters and donkeys. The roosters seemed to be having a contest – seeing who could be the loudest. Although it wasn’t light out yet, I got up and observed the sun rise once again. Putting band-aids on any blisters or sores on our feet, we climbed farther up the escarpment (the village of Nombori already is built on a rocky area of the cliff) to get closer to the older buildings and get a wonderful view of the village.
Saying good-bye to our last village, we began the more difficult climb back up to the top. (Walking down was so much easier). After meeting the 4x4, we then drove back to Bandigara for lunch, and then to Mopti for the evening. A nice long shower helped rid the skin of dirt and the hair from sweat. Although I enjoyed the opportunity to sleep on the rooftops, I also liked the comforts of a shower, a sit-down toilet, etc. Looking at some of the video footage of the trip, I already missed Dogon country.

Day 10 – January 4

Long drive back to Bamako – stopped at San for a “demonstration” of the mudcloth process. Then we ate in Segou. A lot more animals seemed to be on the road. Unfortunately, we hit a goat. We were also stopped several times and delayed by the checkpoints. Some were looking for money bribes and others just had a power hunger. Returning back, I changed into clean clothes and began the process of unpacking. Gosh, there were a lot of things to wash!
I always enjoy going on trips. On each one, I learn things about people and places that could only be discovered with direct experience. I am eager to develop the photos and share my journey with others.

Mask Types
Antelope Mask
• Identify by the ears and long two horns
• Dogon name: Walu

Rabbit Mask
• Identify by the smaller tear-drop shaped ears
• Dogon name: Djomo

Bird Mask
• Identify by feathers covering mask

Crocodile Mask
• Identify by triangular-shaped wooden mask with many teeth on the inside of the mouth

Dogon Sisters
• Identify by female figure wearing skirt with hands outstretched, forming a “W”
• Symbol of pride
• Dogon name: Salimbé

Fulani Woman Mask (on stilts)
• Identify by the use of stilts, semi-circle “hair style” on top of head
• Proud and elegant

Fulani Woman Mask
• Identify by semi-circle “hairstyle” on top of head, no stilts
• An extensive amount of cowrie shells are often used to decorate the mask
• Always performed by males (no women allowed in mask ceremony)

Guardian of the Trees
• Identify by grass-like covering of face, carrying of branches in hands
• Protects the fruits and trees

Maison á Etage Mask (Building Mask)
• Identify by very tall plank of wood that extends far above the head
• Represents the many levels on a house
• Act of lowering mask to the ground demonstrates the wearer’s strength and power

Hyena Mask
• Identify by dark masses of hair nearly covering face, perhaps a bow-like ears
• Dogon name: Hyéne

Kanaga Mask
• Identify by the two “U” like wooden shapes on headdress: Top one pointing up, Bottom one pointing down
• Mask of the heavens and earth
• Well-known symbol of the Dogon and Mali

Monkey Mask
• Identify by wooden monkey-like figure crouching with hands touching face
• Dogon name: Masque Deninque

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