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Trekking Through Dogon Country

When Shawna and I were planning what we could do with our shortened time in Mali, the number one thing we both wanted was to spend a few days trekking through Dogon Country and learning more about these amazing people.

The story, as told to us by our guide, Hassimi, the jolliest man in Mali, goes as follows – the Telem people were the original inhabitants of this area, stretching nearly 250kms. When Arabs were moving through this part of Africa, doing what they could to convert all they encountered to Islam, the Telem people (then primarily Animists), were simply not interested.

Our guide, Hassimi

They decided the best way to avoid being forcibly converted was to live where they could not be easily spotted. And so they built dozens of mind-blowing villages into the side of the mountain escarpments. There they could look down onto the vast plains to see anyone who was approaching. The one thing that does not exist today along the escarpments were the thick vines which they used to move up and down the side of the mountain, as well as providing them with an additional layer of camouflage and shade.

Today, every Dogon village is different. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some remain Animists…and of course there is every combination of the three co-existing peacefully. Over the past few decades most of the villages have moved their homes from the escarpment, down to the valley below… but even today, there is the odd family or chief who resides in the mountains, just like they did for generations.

Me posing in an Animist village with a shotgun and a bowl of millet beer. Notice the monkey pelts in the back?

Shawna and I were fortunate enough to be trekking with only two other tourists, a young Japanese couple and as mentioned above, our Malian guide, Hassimi. Being in this small group allowed us to have all of Hassimi’s attention, which we were very thankful for. He is a great story-teller and kept us constantly entertained. He told us of the three important principles of a Dogon life: 1) work hard during the day; 2) have sex at night (having sex and conceiving a child during the daylight hours is actually a sure way to have a disobedient brat as your offspring); and 3) Repay your loan. This is not so much in the banking sense, but in the familial sense. Parents sacrifice everything to make sure their children can have the best lives possible. However, when the time comes that parents cannot look after themselves, it is vital that the children “repay the loan”, and take care of their now needy parents. If you do not do this, you will live a cursed life the rest of your days. Good to know.

We spent three days trekking, and in that time covered a mere 30 the 250 kms which are considered part of Dogon Country. Obviously, just the tip of the iceberg…. oh and speaking of icebergs, don’t expect to find any in here…the sun was beating down on us from the moment we awoke until it set at about 5:30PM. Our guide actually had built-in a two-hour nap from 1-3PM every day (much to Shawna’s delight), because he knew it pointless to even try trekking through these hours.

Shawna choosing her indigo cloth

The Dogon people are famous for their handicrafts: wood carvings, indigo prints, and masks are really visible everywhere. Of course everything is for sale.
Our meals were fairly carb-heavy (much to Shawna’s dismay), with either pasta, couscous, or rice being the main part of every meal. This is a step up from the millet (think poor man’s rice) which most of the Dogon people will eat three meals a day.

The highlight of our touring was at night, when Shawna and I slept outside in the Ende and Bengimato villages, with only our mosquito net separating us from the stars.

For our 3-day tour we paid 90,000 CFA ($180CDN). This included Hassimi’s humour, all our meals and accommodation. Much needed water and a nightly beer was extra, but this journey was worth every penny.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the pics!

Look carefully about halfway up....notice the residential area?

A closer look

Bales of millet

African potty

Looking down on the village of Tele

Local villagers

Hassimi and I pulling water from the well

Shawna learns how to keep the fire going, Dogon-style!

...and we both soak in the African sunset. Shawna told me that this scene reminds her of where Mufasa and Simba would have lived, in the Lion King.

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3 Responses to “Trekking Through Dogon Country”

  1. Melanie- a girl with gumption April 5, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    Wow, Hassimi has lost weight! He looks about half the size he was when my friends and I toured with him in January 2011.

    Such a good guy, right? Did he try and stump you with his English riddles?
    Melanie- a girl with gumption recently don’t choose a life, you live one

    • Skott and Shawna April 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Hassimi was a rock star…we could not have asked for a better guide…. good to hear he is losing weight… although climbing up and down those hills all day, I cannot imagine how you could not!


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