Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tireli, Dogon Country, Mali

In Sevare we bought some kola nuts to give to the old people we met during our walk. The kola nut was originally used in coca cola and is yellow, pink or red coloured. It is an appetite depressant and a mild stimulant. Sometimes the old folk asked us for the nuts and at other times we greeted them and gave them some which they accepted with a wide smile.

Dogon villages are set out to a traditional pattern. The family compound has a courtyard and rooms for the parents and young as well as granaries, linked by stone and mud walls. Children from around seven to nine years live in a childrens' home in the village. Single sex dormitories are constructed for those who have been circumsised but not yet married. The granaries are only used by the women and contain grains as well as jewellery or other items the women wish to store. The graneries look like plasticine pepperpots giving the villages a fairytale look.

There is a maison de regles or menstruating house for women to go to when they have their periods. Older women are with them to give them traditional medicines or advice if needed.

There are altars for sacrifices and other ritual sacred places. The Togu-na or case a palabres has a low roof with eight pillars. It is a place where the men meet to discuss and listen to problems that there may be and then they decided on solutions or mete out justice as they think right. The low roof helps the discussions calm as an angry person cannot stand up.

The mud covered buildings have to be replastered every year as the rains erode them. A mix of mud, dung, and a plant oil is used to help waterproof the coating.

The baobabs looked very strange as the bark is stripped off to make rope and even with such scarring the tree still survives.

Under the escarpment cliffs are the remains of the houses built by the Tellem people who lived here before the Dogon. Although the buildings are high up in the cliffs they would have been reached by rope ladders or from the tops of the tall forest trees that were around at the time. Today there is very little forest and the desert is taking over the plains below the cliffs. The old Tellem houses are now used by the Dogon for burials.

The guesthouse at Tirelli was a treat as it had a petrol powered fridge and we were able to have cold drinks. It also had a shower attached to a 44 gallon drum and a western style toilet. The owner was a Catholic man with nine children and had recently moved from his smaller hose to the present one where he could fit everyone in and have enough accommodation for the tourists. The ornate carved doors tell the history of the Dogon people and are now a sought after tourist souvenir.

A Korean film crew arrived for lunch at the guesthouse and had paid the village to see and film the masked dancers that the Dogon people are famous for. We were allowed to watch as well as long as we stayed out of the way of the Koreans and paid a small fee to the village. We went into the town as it was market day and then watched the dancers.

The drummers

The stilt dancers

One of the masks in the form of a prostrate serpent can be ten metres high. Some of the other masks resemble goats, rabbits, cows and other animals.

The French government has issued warnings on its advisory site against travel to Mali. They say that there is some Al-Quaeda activity in the country but from what we can make out, France wants to return some Mali refugees but wants Mali to pay for their repatriation. The Mali government doesn't want to pay. As a consequence, there is a drop in the number of French tourists coming to Mali and it looks like it will continue for as long as the warning stays on the French site and is added to other government sites.

There is a large French built tourist complex opposite Tireli village and it looks like it will empty for quite awhile.