24-Dogon Country 3-Degedege_732x768SYNOPSIS:  Entry into a mysterious world: Dogon Country with my new companion-guide Hamidou, also known as Degedege.  One hour of “work”, four hours of rest – the pace of Africa in June.

Note:  The images were processed after I left Dogon Country, therefore I have grouped them thematically now rather than following the day’s events.  Today’s theme:  The People of Dogon Country.

I finally understood why the driver who took Degedege and me into Dogon Country had left the car running during all the small stops we made on our way.   When he turned it off at our final destination, it would not start again, had to be pushed and then broke down for good ½ km further down the road!  That was a close call.  What would we have done with all of our “cargo” on the road under the open sun in 50/110 degrees?  I know that I would have had a heat stroke.  Thanks, Pantheon, that was a masterpiece!

Dogon Country  you can read much more about it online – is a 150 km escarpment which features dozens of traditional Dogon villages either atop the plateaus, down in the valleys, or along the rocky cliffs.  One can do one-day excursions or spend weeks here.  I opted for one week.  Typically, these visits are done on foot.  This actually, in my deluxe version of this trip, includes the rental of a donkey cart to carry our water supply, some foods which the guide will cook, my luggage, and in between valley villages, the occasional ride on the cart to make things easier.

And my deluxe version also included the “bush taxi” which I mentioned, broken down at the end of the day.   That meant I was able to avoid taking a shared taxi from Mopti to Bandiagara and then hiring whatever transport to make it into Djigui Bombo (you just gotta love those names!) from where the actual hikes begin.   In Djigui Bombo I was given the option to hike or to ride the car all the way down into the valley along with our cargo.  Guess what, at 10:30 AM it was already so hot that the mere thought of hiking atop sandstone cliffs gave me a headache.  I chickened out and took the car down.   After about a 1 hour hike through the village it was time for a 4 hour rest, which included a salad lunch, a nap and writing the blog.   Between 11:30 AM and 4:30 I now find myself just trying to survive every day. So far, so good.

We are going to stay one night in Kani-Kombole, which is home to one of those now familiar mosques.  Since it is situated behind the rainwater pond, it is really picturesque.  The village itself is not particularly exciting but since this is the first of my Dogon villages, there are a number of features which are typical which I am encountering here for the first time:   Each of the villages has a meeting place for the retired men of the village, the elders.   They hang out all day long, let their children work, and are there for advice, input, litigations, and just for reverence.  They are usually a jolly bunch and I have encountered them in other villages.  But Dogon villages are famous for their wood carvings.  Those are typically doors on granaries or houses and pillars on those meeting places, also known as toguna.

I was greeted with great fanfare as once again, I am the first tourist this village has seen in years.  Chris, who just came through Dogon Country, came from Burkina Faso and hit a few more Southerly villages than I will.  Here we are no longer known as tubob or tubabum, but in the Dogon language as anisera.

Dogon Cosmology is complex and centers around Sirius, or the Dog Star.  Animism is definitely driving  this region even though many people are Muslims and nearly all villages have mosques.  I asked Degedege about this and his answer is telling:  I have a Muslim name (Hamidou), he said. Outside, I am a Muslim, but inside, I am an animist.  I don’t go pray much either, he laughed.  And when we saw some very conservatively-dressed women in black chadors (picture that in 50/110 degree weather), he shook his head and said:  They are crazy.  

No wonder, Islamists have an issue with this country if his attitude is typical, and I think it is.

I am fascinated by the amount of original art everywhere.  From the doors to the poles on the stalls in the market, to the post where the chief’s horse is tied down to the drinking fountains for the animals.   Much of it is still made of wood and beautifully carved even though much of it has also been sold over time to unscrupulous tourists… 

The tourist lodge, once a thriving little compound, is deserted.   I have made it my “home” again for a night.  I have a bed made of bamboo, a wooden day bed on which I can recline, and I asked for a school desk from a bunch that had been stored in a corner for repair.  So, I have a bedroom, a living room, and an office. Some of the locals walk through the compound as a shortcut and look in, greeting me with amazement.  After all, there is a white woman sitting at a children’s desk typing away on a computer in a village that does not have electricity…  I will see how I can pace myself on my battery reserve.  I will do my best. 

The pillars of my little villa are painted in earth tone colors showing geometric designs typical in Dogon masks and art.  I am sitting here sheltered from the sun, which is still beating down in full force at about 4 PM. There is only a short window of bearable daylight between about 5 and 6:30 when the sun goes down and darkness sets in fast.  That makes for about 5 hours of activity every day if the guide is willing to get going early enough:  6-10 AM and 5-7 PM. That is fine by me.   Perhaps, the nights will be clear around here.   The moon is waxing at the moment and might provide some nice light.

I think I will have a good, slow time in Dogon country!    Good night.

8 comments so far

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  1. Hi Elisabeth. I just wonder, did Degedege mention his trip to Europe in 2012?

    • Yes, he did. Do you know him? ET

      • He DID? He DID? What a surprise. Yes, I know him. It was me who invited him to Europe. He lived with me for two months. What did he say about his trip, please?

  2. 50 degrees Centigrade is NOT 110 Fahrenheit. It is 122!

  3. With all this sun would a solar lapt top charger be a good idea?. It only weighs 1.1 pounds and could chage all your electronics. I know, to late now. But maybe next time!

  4. For readers who are interested in the tradition of the Dogon wood carvings here a very intersting documentary from the BBC

  5. The Dogon cosmology is certainly a fascinating study. I was reading that one explanation for their knowledge of the companion stars of Sirius involves extraterrestrial contact that gave them this knowledge of “invisible stars” long before astronomers discovered the extra star. Studies done on the Dogon also offer some very interesting comparisons to ancient Egyptian cosmology…and Buddhism. The Dogon granery, which begins with a pyramid-alligned structure, is said by Dogon priests to define their world view, and is apparently akin in many ways to the Buddhist stupa.
    Much to learn from this culture and their cosmology/mythology.
    Have fun…and maybe you will find something in your visit with the Dogon involving string theory. I was reading that they had one of the first explanations of cosmology involving string theory…but that is for when there is much, much more time for discussion. LOL
    Take care…

  6. It sounds like you have a good plan for the week. Thank you again for the wonderful recap!