|From Mopti we proceeded to three days in the Dogon country. The Dogon people live in a series of villages along the Badiagara escarpment in three zones: the plateau, the cliff, and the lower plains. They arrived on the scene in the 14th or 15th century, after fleeing their lands along the Niger, refusing to convert to Islam. They displace the Tellem people, whose cave-like homes are still intact high on the cliffs above the Dogon villages. The lower plains are shared with the Fulani people.
The Dogon people are agricultural. They irrigate their fields of millet, cotton, and onions with buckets. Their religious beliefs are predominantly animist, which means they attribute a living soul to natural objects and phenomena. They also worship ancestors (some buried high above the cliff villages in former Tallem lodgings) and members of the "Society of Masks" perform rituals to guarantee that a person's "life force" will flee from his or her corpse to a future relative of the same lineage. About a third of the people have converted to Islam and there are a few Christians.
We started our visit to the Dogon country at Sanga, one of the larger towns on the plateau. It was market day--this occurs once a week, which in Dogon country is once every five days. The next day we started a hike of about ten miles, through the cliff villages of Banani, Ireli, Yaye, Amani, and Tereli. In Tereli we stayed overnight at the home of the village chief. The next morning we hiked up the cliff to Daga, where we had arranged to be picked up by our driver.
One of our pleasures of having a guide in the Dogon country was to listen to the melodic greetings as we walked through the villages. The oldest person would start the greeting as we approached, and the greeting would continue as we passed the person and then moved on. Roughly, the greeting translates to "How are you? How is your wife/husband? How are the children? How is the House? How is the village? This might continue on about crops, animals, harvest, etc. If it is known someone has an ill relative, that person must be asked about. All responses say that things are fine, even if they are not. (To a lesser extent these civilities are observed all throughout Mali. Even in Bamako, one never rushes into business without first making a few polite inquires on health and family.)
The Dogon villages have some distinctive structures. The open low-ceilinged structure are togu na. They are topped by three layers of millet (representing the plateau, the cliffs, and the plains). Only men are allowed to hang out in the togu na. Disputes are settled in these structures; the low roof is high enough to sit under, but too low for standing and fighting. They are rebuilt every 60 years as part of a larger ritual. Another type of distinctive structure is the granaries. They look like shoeboxes on end, topped by thatched roofs that look like witches hats. They are used for storing millet and household possessions. The homes themselves are boxy affairs with flat roofs that are perfect for sleeping--we did that at the chief's home in Tereli.