30-Dogon Country Togunas-1_1024x755SYNOPSIS:  The final night in Dogon Country.

 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 Togunas of Dogon Country.

I thought I was joking when I said to Degedege upon arrival in our final Auberge: we should have a goodbye party with an ice-cold beer!  The night was perfect, clear, and full of stars which later made way to the still almost full moon.   The Auberge was huge – testimony of better times – and in one corner had a booth with the promising name “Bar” stenciled on to it complete with a 2008 calendar dangling sideways in the dust featuring an overflowing glass of beer, which had prompted my idea.

Degedege took me seriously and said he would find out if there still was that one refrigerator in town, operated by a solar panel which was given to one of the restaurant owners by a Swiss tourist.   It was!   And that’s how we ended up indeed over a cold beer for me and a cold Fanta for Degedege celebrating the end of our one week journey to Dogon Country!  It felt like heaven.  Degedege shared some of his horror and fun stories with me of 12 years of guiding, which made for great entertainment.   He is a great and caring guy and his English is as good as it gets around here.  That means you have to figure out that “element” is actually “lemon” and no matter how many times I corrected him, “sacrifice” in his mind is still “sacrifife”.   But context is everything and you can’t complain about someone who is perfect in his organizational skills, dedicated, passionate about his people and knowledgeable in his field.   He actually had purchased land in his native village to start an Auberge on his own.   It now sits abandoned and half-finished awaiting better times.

The night itself looked beautiful but felt less than wonderful.  There was no wind at all.   My body was wet from just lying in the heat and I had no idea if I would ever fall asleep as there was no sign of relief.   But funny enough, nature always wins and I must have slept since I awoke to a perfect sunrise the next morning.

We had finally been able to leave Tirelli, passing the local market on our way out.  As expected, the market was colorful and vibrant, full of interesting stuff I could not identify and full of demanding people who would harass me for money or presents for every photo I took or wanted to take.  This phenomenon has become quite bothersome, I have to admit.  It also makes me wonder about this so-called “unspoiled” territory.  If as a single tourist, two years after tourists have all but disappeared, I get this reaction, imagine the constant flow of entire tour groups.  The corruption of the population just by our presence is tremendous.

We walked one last time; 8 km from Tirelli to Ireli.  As always, I walked  behind Degedege and adjusted the rhythm of my steps to his.   All you hear is the sound of our feet in the sand, step by step.  I wonder if that is why usually the women walk in line rather than side by side – that leader really pulls you along.    I would have dragged slowly but surely, but with Degedege striding along I had to keep pace.   We walked between 5-7 PM, probably one of the nicest times of the day.   We passed Amani, a small village with a sacred pool dedicated to the crocodile which is sacred in Dogon mythology as it once led the ancestors to water.

And can you believe my luck – three of the crocodiles were out on the banks of the pond and I got within feet of them!  They were small and Degedege assured me that they never attack people.   Well, I won’t test that theory.  The wildlife around here has shrunk tremendously.   No lions, elephants, or whatever else you might imagine to roam around in Africa is even near here.  It’s all small game, mainly lizards, a few wild cats, a very occasional monkey – they used to be plentiful.  I have seen none of them.  But what never ceases to amaze me is the variety of birds and bird sounds.  And it isn’t even the season for the migrating birds.   All those sounds mingle with the sounds of our steps and it is one of the ways I will remember Dogon Country.

Just before dark we had reached our new and final Dogon destination, Ireli.   It is known as the “Tellem Capital”.  As you can read much better online, the story of the origin of the Dogons has it that 8 spiritual ancestors arrived in this part of the world from the Mande region in the 13th to 14th Century.  Here they encountered the Tellem, the indigenous, “small people” who were cliff dwellers.   The ancestors (4 men and 4 women) are still honored in recurring numerology of 8.  And evidence of the Tellem is most prominently preserved in their architecture.  The Tellem were considered semi-magical in part because of their small size and the fact that they had built houses in near-inaccessible high-cliff locations.   It is curious to see that indeed the old Tellem structures are all 2/3 of the size of the Dogon buildings, but both resemble each other closely.   As the Dogon deforested the land and turned to agriculture, the Tellem left, so the story goes.

Ireli has the most impressive and densest clusters of Tellem architecture, with unique conical structures, presumably for ceremonial gear, and tomorrow we will hike from one end of Ireli to the other and then head over the cliff to Sangha, the place where the same bush taxi will pick us up which dropped us off a week ago.  I hope it has been fixed properly!

Good night.


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  1. It’s interesting: some people believe that the Dogon people got their knowledge of Sirius and its companion stars from extraterrestrials. Then I read a bit about the Tellem people, who were there before the Dogon and have since disappeared. This statement caught my eye: “It is thought by some in Mali today that the Tellem possessed the power of flight.”
    Now, you know, Elisabeth, that I have my feet planted solidly on Terra firma, but here are two references to possible explanations involving perhaps some kind of extraterrestrial…do I dare say the word “alien”…involvement in the history of the Dogon and Tellem cultures in Mali. I never rule anything out…and until there is proof for some other explanation…well…it’s fun to think about. I’m wondering if Degedege or any of your other guides said anything about that theory.
    Best wishes for your next stage in the journey.
    Take care, Elisa…