Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Dogon Region of Mali

Dogon Villages are easily identified by their distinctive square graineries. Most house compounds will have at least two, this one being a "men's grainery", with three doors, used for storing the millet meal that is their staple.

The Dogon are famous for their lavishly carved doors, mostly on their graineries, but occassionally on the houses as well. The faces on either side of the door are representations of the town Spiritual Leader and the Spiritual Leader's wife.

The Dogon region runs along a magnificent escarpment, and much of the earlier villages were built along the face of the cave. It is only recently, with more security, that the people have left the old houses and moved onto new villages on the floor. The last people left the cliff houses about fourty years ago. The structures are entirely mud-brick, and some of them border on being nearly a thousand years old.

This is typical architecture for the town Spiritual Leader's house. The rergular pockmarks provide small ledges on which small icons and dolls are placed.

The cliff villages were built in an intricate three dimensional layers, with the streets and paths frequently running directly above houses or below the graineries. Suspending the graineries in the air has the strong benefit of preventing rats and rodents from being able to burrow into the food supplies.

The towns at the top of the cliff have slightly different architecture, with most structures made of stone instead of mud. On the left is one of the town's meeting places. The super thick roof of thatch keeps it quite cool, even in 105 degree weather. They are built low, with an interior height of around three feet. It is where all the men will gather to lounge, but also to settle disputes. The roof is kept purposely low, my guide claimed, to keep people from arguing. If you get angry, you hit your head.

A view from the top of the cliff. We hiked up there and spend a night in a village at the top, sleeping on the roof of the houses. Most villages are actually a cluster of several smaller settlements, grouped closely together. Most are divided into seperate Animist, Islamic and Catholic communities. This is the height of dry season, with the rains expected to come in the weeks following my visit. The entirty of this view is actually farmland, although the soil currently has the consistency of dust. You can see in a few palaces in this photo that it has actually been plowed, but otherwise there are no telltale signs that it is able to support life. Come back in December, and the area is solid green.

The house of the Spiritual Leader in another town:

The town hunter.

And his house:


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Mopti, Mali

I just got back to Monrovia from my trip to Mali. After flying into Bamako, I took a 12 hour, overnight bus ride to Mopti. Mopti is primarily a salt trading port located at the joining of the Niger and Bani Rivers. The salt is brought down from the Sahara in caravans to Timbuktu, and then loaded on small boats for transportation to Mopti, where is is exchanged for grain to be brought back up.

The construction in the entire region of East Mali is entirely mud brick, with the walls recovered with a fresh layer of mud every year after the rainy season. The mosque in Mopti is a classic (although relatively new at 80 years old), of the architecture of the region.

The boats are made in Mopti. Local blacksmiths will melt down scrap metal, usually from old cars, for the nails and other running gear for the boats.

The wooden hulls are fitted together by hand by local artisans.

Some photos from a trip up and down the Niger and Bani rivers.

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