John traveled to West Africa in December of 2000 and January of 2001 with the Wilderness Travel Expeditions. His guide, Magnus Andersen, had traveled extensively into the Dogon region of Mali and was an “adopted son” of the tribesmen. The Dogon people live in ancient adobe settlements hidden in the rock face of the Bandiagara Escarpment. Here is the journal entry describing the “dama” or dance which is an energetic homage to the Dogon ancestors.
December 23, 2000
The ceremony begins with the elders working their way down the hill where they sit in a group. Some get the drums and banging bells. They chant and drum rhythms throughout the dance. [Behind me the square shaped houses blend into the side of the escarpment. Looming above are the Tellum ruins used for burial by the Dogon.
A man quietly tunes his portable radio. Most everyone is dressed in Western clothes. Life is both traditional and changing as the Dogon are no longer able to hide from or side step the flow of history.] The dancers appear above us in a long line down the cliff trail into the ceremonial area. At first, they all dance in a slow circle - the masks startling in their power. Two dancers dressed like women are on stilts. The dancers all step to the rhythm of the drums and the chant. One elder in a conical shaped hat appears to call the changes in the dance. Eventually, the dancers sit and each mask type does a dance indicative of its creature. They bring the power of the bush or its energy to the village. The insect announces the death which the dance celebrates. In turn the tall stork, the powerful bull, the bird that led the Dogon to the escarpment, the protecting buffalo, the fast gazelle, the hyena with its knowledge of eternal life, do their dances. Then the man with a goiter, the hunter and the shaman all dance and the birds on stilts (water birds).
Walter Beck, the anthropologist who is the leading authority on this tribe, explained the dance and the significance of each mask. We were lucky he was here visiting. After the dance, we walked through the village which is essentially a process of stumbling up and stumbling down the rocks."