Excluded from the array of great empires that have succeeded one another in Mali, the Dogon people perpetuated for centuries a tradition full of magic and mystery. Whether through their agricultural miracles, their attics hanging on the cliff or their cosmogony, the Dogon people continue to fascinate.

It is on the Bandiagara shelves, in the final loop of the Niger River, that the Dogons have for centuries sought refuge against the invaders. However, if the isolation of the plateau brought them protection, water and arable lands were rare.

At the foot of the cliff we can see the Dogon granaries of the village of Ireli while higher Telem ones are suspended from the cliff.

Through the combined force of some ongoing efforts, the Dogons have learned to cultivate millet, beans and onions, and to grow medicinal plants such as shea, nere, the balanzan and tamarind. For that purpose, they’ve developed intensive agriculture, characterized by very careful irrigation systems in terraces and some vegetable patches built on rocky outcrops, small and unexpected oasis in the middle of the rocks.

Dolo, one of the elders of Songho sits in front of the murals that serve as intermediaries between men and the gods.

Over centuries, with the growth of the population, a new Dogon country was slowly formed in Seno-Gondo’s plain located below and on the sides of the cliff once inhabited by the Telems. In the middle of the cliff, we can still see the impressive remnants of Telems’ granaries. Legend has it that the Telems and the Dogons accessed these granaries that were at several hundred meters above the plain with flying carpets. Even though it is mystifying to believe the legends, when facing the cliff of Bandiagara sometimes reaching almost 400m high, it is difficult to imagine that they could access these caves without the help of their carpets.

Dogon country in Mali

Of course the magic of the Dogons is not limited to a few flying carpets. Dogon’s mythology and cosmogony includes astronomical facts invisible to the naked eye, just as the planet Sirius plays an important role or the rings of Saturn and Jupiter’s satellites. A knowledge that they would hold from the visit of amphibious aliens that came from Sirius. Myth or reality, Dogon’s country is a place of magic able to cause doubt and confusion amongst the most Cartesian minds.

Text & photos : Alexandre van Enst