The sandstone plateau, which extends over 150 km and drops steeply up to 600 m, is one of the most impressive geological formations in West Africa and the center of the traditional Dogon culture. Their religion, permeated by a creation myth, is reflected in detail in almost all areas of life such as customs, architecture, clothing, art and landscaping.
Bandiagara Rocks: Facts
|Official title:||Bandiagara Rocks (Dogon Country)|
|Cultural and natural monument:||Sandstone cliffs of Bandiagara stretching over 150 km and between 100 and 500 m high; since 1969 legal protection for the cultural heritage of the Dogon, an ancient Nigritian peasant people; settlement by four immigrant tribes between the 10th and 13th centuries; Culture related to the creation myth of the god Amma and the Nommo twins; Relation of everyday life to the 8 ancestors, i.a. the 8 cotton strips of a death’s blanket sewn together and made of rectangular patterns; Architecture shaped by mythological ideas such as a 2.5 m high Binu sanctuary in Sanga (Upper Ogol district) with facade paintings in a checkerboard and zigzag pattern as a representation of the fertile rain|
|Location:||Bandiagara rocks with the Sangha (Sanga / Songo) region and 13 separate villages, northeast of Bamako and Djenné|
|Meaning:||one of the most impressive geological formations in West Africa and a haven of traditional Dogon culture|
|Flora and fauna:||Steppe landscape with the acacia species Acacia raddiana and Acacia albida, which are typical of arid regions in Africa, as well as the zachun tree with fatty, edible fruits; on the plateau shibutter tree, the Terminalia species Terminalia macroptera and African mahogany as well as the Parkia biglobosa, which belongs to the legume-like order; at the foot of the cliffs and others Tamarind tree with sweet and sour tasting legumes; Mammals such as cape hyrax, pale fox, African porcupine, and jackal; Birds such as the fox hawk, gabar hawk, yellow-beaked shrike, matte-backed nectar bird and little Alexander parakeet|
Gigantic wall in an endless plain
The slope is red, ocher red: a barely recognizable lane in the endless Gondo plain. Gnarled baobabs stretch their bare branches into a pale blue sky. Sometimes a mud village appears behind thorn bushes and isolated groups of trees, surrounded by fortress-like walls. Only after hours of driving in an off-road vehicle suddenly rises a rugged, elongated mountain range like a wall that shimmers orange-red in the evening light: the rocks of Bandiagara, also known as »Falaise«. The clay villages of the Dogon stick like swallow nests on the steep slopes, can hardly be distinguished from the rock.
In the inaccessible precipices and high plateaus, this peasant people, who had lived there for centuries, managed to defy all invasions, to protect themselves from the proselytizing of the Muslims and to preserve their unique way of life, characterized by highly developed cosmological-religious ideas and a mythical ancestral cult. It finds its expression in artistic wooden sculptures, masks, fetishes and an outstanding clay architecture. Today around 350,000 Dogon still live in the villages of the Falaise and Gondo Plains – almost three percent of the total population of Mali according to smber.
The Falaise, which stretches south of the Niger River like a gigantic wall through the wide, sandy plain, is the remainder of a mountain range on the African continent that gradually leveled itself over the course of millions of years through weathering and erosion processes. Flat sandstones from ancient times form this bizarre “steep step”, the basement of which also consists of granite and crystalline slate.
Ethnologists believe that the Dogon, fleeing from a tyrannical king in what is now Senegal, settled the Falaise between the 10th and 13th centuries, although they were certainly not the first residents of the rockfall. According to tradition, they met a “dwarf people with reddish skin color”, the Tellem, who lived in caves and crevices, lived on hunting and gathering and could climb the rocks using ropes made from the fibers of the baobab tree. The Dogon still revere the legendary Tellem to this day. High above an almost black, flat stone desert lie those natural grottos in which they bury their dead and in which they keep their sacred ceremonial masks and wooden statues in secret places.
For the Dogon there is a dense network of symbolic connections between all elements of the universe, which is expressed not only in religious cults, but also in every everyday object. The pattern of a dead ceiling also resembles the niche structure of a house facade or the floor plan of an irrigated onion garden.
A visitor to the Dogon villages will immediately feel the magical reflection of this outlook on life. When he walks across the rocky plateau to Sanga, the main town of the Dogon, he sees strange clay altars on which millet porridge have curdled in long, white threads. In the tangle of mud houses he sees walled farmsteads, against which millet granaries lean, resembling obelisks. He passes a »menstruation house« and archaic men’s meeting houses, crouched under thick roofs made of millet stalks, and comes across typical Ginna houses – a kind of multi-storey building with 80 niches on the front, which symbolize the descendants of the ancestors and in which offerings are made. Upstairs there is a wooden storage door adorned with ancestral figures, the snake live, crocodiles,
The writer and ethnologist Michel Leiris, who, together with Marcel Griaule, the “discoverer” of the Dogon culture, first researched and recorded the mask and death rituals of this people in 1931, wrote: “Everywhere an astonishing religiosity, the sacred hovers in every corner, everything seems wise and difficult. ”However, as a result of the incursion of contemporary cultures into the world of the Dogon, it is to be feared that the chances for the continued existence of the Bandiagara culture have deteriorated significantly.