Roberto Cerea - translating
Dogon culture and rituals
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
25 Jan 2003
- 10.0 km near Bandiagara; village of Songho
- 14.35 -3.616667
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS Stereo
Log of DAT #:15a
Date: January 25th, 2003
IM = Issa Mohammed
R = Roberto Cerea
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila
0:10 AC-This is a Dogon village.
0:19 AC-Radio Expeditions recording in a Dogon village on January 25th, 2003.
0:25-44-Ambi. Walking, talking.
0:45 AC-Bunch of mud and stone houses, very well built. A style of architecture I've never seen before. Fairly small structures. Quite square and regular shaped with the conical thatched roofs. Very rocky country and the walls are just made up of dried stone construction. Starting to climb uphill here.
1:26-Ambi. Going up the hill. Discussing hike.
2:02 WD-Where are we guys?
R-We are a climbing on the cave of Songho. The cave where every three or four years, it depends on the harvest, and in front of us we are looking at a village that is inhabited by 3000 people. They are Dogon. They live in highland with the (unintelligible). Officially now they are Muslims, but they keep their traditions, especially the tradition of circumcision. So now we go to see the cave.
5:00 AC-Can you tell us what we're looking at here?
Roberto can't talk at that moment because it is a sacred place.
6:50 AC-So we've been waiting for the representative of, well, the circumcision people.
They set up for audio
8:52 R-He says that that is the ancestors seat. So in order to make it to honor, the ancestors, these people, they wanted to make it to sit down in this place (unintelligible)
AC-Where they keep their?
R- The memory of the ancestors.
Wade wants to sit down beside someone, they set up, background conversation all in French while they set up.
12:06 R-That is the ancestor's side
12:18 R-We are lucky to be here the ancestors were here before us and our duty is to hold up.
12:32 R-So first thing in order to honor them we have to make a sacrifice.
12:52 R-If it was somebody coming from the village we would have asked him for a lamb, but we were not from the village we can't replace the mutton for a certain amount of money so we can't buy the mutton.
Wade wants to do the translating.
14:09 WD-They said along 30,000 CFA's.
WD-And they say this will allow them to get a very good sheep to make the sacrifice.
15:21 WD-We must always respect the ancestors. Right now he's prepared to say exactly what the ancestors have to say.
They rearrange the way they are sitting.
16:22 WD-Well, the first thing we want to say is how honored we are to be here and we're very grateful for having been received by them in such a sacred place.
17:01 WD-And we bring greetings from all of our families who cannot be here with us.
WD-And I'd like to begin by asking him to tell the story of this place.
18:05 R-You understand?
WD-Ya, I think just about, no, no, no¿(they discuss who will interpret questions)
18:21 R-He says they didn't start circumcision. When they came here they came already with the circumcision.
21:21 R-They say that when they came from Mander Region the first sacrifice they had was on that hill but it didn't work so they moved it to another hill and it didn't work so for the third time it was here and they made a sacrifice and it work and that is the place where they stay.
21:51 R-Any woman can't come here. Any child who is not yet circumcised can't come here.
IM-If he's black.
R-If he's black.
23:28 R-He says every three years they have to perform the circumcision because they have special mysterious tools. They have to make a sacrifice every year. If they don't do every three years the circumcision can't be performed any more.
R-But because this year they didn't have a good harvest they can't perform a circumcision, despite the fact they have a circumcision every three years.
24:04 WD-So what will happen to the age set that was going to be circumcised this year, when will they be circumcised?
24:49 R-They will post-pone one year the circumcision.
24:59 R-So it depends on the rainy season if the next rainy season is good they will do it next year.
26:35 R-So he says if the family anyway wants that his child will be circumcised they go to a village where they perform the circumcision anyway as a group is not circumcised the child, even if he's not circumcised, he can't come here to the cave.
26:53 WD-In other words he must be circumcised with his age cohorts.
27:09 R-But the kin of those family, the children of the kin of those family they are forbidden to go to another village to have the circumcision. The only place where their family can be circumcised is here.
WD-And that is because the kin is in charge of the circumcision?
27:47 R-Because they are the keepers of the tradition.
R-So they are the first ones to respect the tradition.
28:07 R-Okay they say all the village can go to be circumcised elsewhere, but not their family.
28:12 WD-In many parts of Africa circumcision is the most important event of a young man's life and I've been in many cultures where the preparations for it can last years, they can involve great journeys into the bush. What are the kinds of things that a young Dogon boy must do to prepare himself for that circumcision?
29:07 WD-Specifically ask about the phrase bush because Dogon have this great separation of the bush and civilized space so specifically ask if there is any engagement with the wild like that, do you understand?
31:09 R-So he says that two months between circumcision the young boys they have to go to the bush to collect the special wood and when they come back with the wood they prepare the shelter for the circumcision.
31:32 WD-Tell them this is very, very interesting because in cultures all over the world this is what happens. Where I live the people, the first inhabitants of the land, would send their boys deep into the forest where they had to encounter a certain set of spirits and come back with power. In other parts of Africa the boys have to go on long, long journeys to collect specific items like wood and only through that journey can you come back and be prepared for that circumcision. It seems like that is a little bit of what the Dogon are doing as well.
33:49 R-Even two months before the circumcision they consider that the young boy is already an adult so he doesn't sleep anymore in the house of his father.
R-So the wood would be used to make a new hut where they go to spend the night.
34:06 WD-The other thing that always seems to happen is that the boys who go through circumcision together become bonded for life. Does that happen here?
35:29 R-So he says that the circumcision, the group of people they stay together until their marriage. So in between is always with the same group.
R-They don't go to live with their family anymore for the night, but they stay together.
R-Kanji, that is the name, technical word they use to call it.
36:10 WD-Ask him to forgive me for making these comparisons but it's only because it allows me to understand the ritual complexity here with the Dogon.
WD-Just so I can understand the richness of what goes on here.
37:03 WD-For example, again I've been places where all the families are very afraid that the boy will show fear or pain because it can be very bad for the boy and for the family. What about here, is that an issue here?
38:56 R-So the day before (French) the night before the circumcision they bring the children to the bush and they scare them we (unintelligible). You see what is going to happen if you are scared?
WD-So if you're scared, if you, something bad will happen to you?
R-So if you're scared the thing is going to happen to you.
WD-And what if you show any sign of responding to the pain.
WD-And again in the cultures I have visited it is very important that you show no pain. And they say as it's about to happen all your family says I'll give you five cows if you don't show pain. And they say you can build up a whole herd of cows on those promises.
41:46 R-So usually the relatives of the child they tell to him you see you are in front of 100 kids so if you cry after the pain everybody will laugh after you. Very shameful¿
R-So if you don't cry I will give you everything you want.
42:20 WD-Isn't it interesting how similar cultures are that deal with this?
42:40 WD-But it's also there's something very special and unique that happens here and I wonder if you could share with us some of the history on the rocks and how they're maintained. Who paints them? You can see that some of them have been painted quite recently, others have faded, who is responsible for maintaining the beauty of this place?
45:09 R-So he says that the when they established themselves on the first hill the cave was like this but the cave literally went down slowly by slowly so now almost closed. So they moved and they came here and they started making the drawings but the first drawings they were made by the Telem(?), the small people that live in uh¿
45:35 WD-And so are these the same designs that were made by the Telem?
45:53 WD-So any one of these designs, because the Telem were before the Dogon even lived here, the ancestors, so every one of those designs has been year after year after year been repainted for hundreds of years.
46:49 R-Every three years they repaint the drawings.
47:00 R-In between they are not allowed to touch the drawings so they are the kins that have been circumcised they repaint the drawings.
WD-Is there ever a new painting made?
R-They say they don't add any drawings.
47:53 R-So after the circumcision, right after they start the circumcision they bring the children here and when they are convalescent, when they start to be better, (really gross effect here of someone hawking a lugi and spitting it) so they take a benefit from that, they take a benefit from here to repaint the drawings.
48:10 WD-So how long do they, once the boys have been circumcised how long is there convalescence and do they spend the rest of their time here?
49:40 R-During 30 years, 30 days after the circumcision they stay here, even if they are cured after some days.
50:09 R-They come here at the 4 o'clock and they leave at 7.
WD-Oh, okay he corrected himself¿from dawn to dusk.
50:29 R-So at 4 o'clock they come here, at 7 they leave and they are moved by the company by the rest of the people. When they move here they go down.
50:46 WD-Something that we really are very interested in and curious about is that we're very grateful that they made a sacrifice, but we'd also heard that the circumcision, we'd also heard that the circumcision in many places was, that the circumcision was to take place. We'd met many foreigners who came to witness the circumcision. I'm curious as to why the Dogon permit foreigners to witness an event such as the circumcision?
51:56 WD-No, it's not whether it's here or not, we should find out if it's true and then ask why they think that's a good thing to do.
53:21 R-So he says that the only people that are allowed to stay here in this place are the kinder. The parents of the children they stay a little bit far away. They can see, but they can't speak, they can't talk to their kids.
WD-But do they allow strangers, foreigners, to come and stand where the parents stand?
53:59 WD-And say that we are asking not because we want to¿and not because we want to do it, but because we heard that people are coming today to see it and we're just interested about that fact, whether that's true or not, and you can ask them that.
56:04 R-He says after the ceremony for the visitors, the tourists, it's no problem for them to come see the children, he said after the ceremony there's a boo-boo, like this.
56:21 WD-And¿explain that one of the things that we're doing is exploring how cultures retain their strength and integrity in a complex and modern world. I think that's a fair thing to say. And we're absolutely fascinated and amazed by how the Dogon, over hundreds of years, even from the time of the Islamic movement, the French, modern times, tourism have protected their culture and so it's one of the richest cultures in the world. Can we just ask him what he thinks? How did that happen? What have the Dogon done to make that happen?
59:20 R-He says that they do everything they can do to resist in front of the pressure of modernity, of Islam. For example, for the circumcision they go to the authority of the school for the children and they ask them to set the children free one month before the circumcision.
R-He says we do everything we can do because for us the tradition is more, most important of everything else.
59:58 WD-How do the Dogon deal with the flood of tourists who have now begun to come upon their lands?
1:01:16 R-He says that it is true that there are many tourists and there are many guides, but many times what the guides say to the tourists about the Dogon is not true.
R-Guides are many times lying, looking for money. If you want the real information you have to go to them (meaning Dogon)
WD-What about, that's I'm sure true, but what about the Dogon themselves, do they have any control of the tourism trade? Can they stop the tourists from going to certain places, can they control it in any way?
1:02:26 WD-Not secrets because that's a loaded question.
R-I'm sorry (Speaks more French)
1:04:12 R-He says that they are afraid, in fact they are worried about that. The tourists they go to places where they are sacred and they are not allowed to go. And in (?) for example, anybody can come here except if it is accompanied by somebody of the kin of¿
WD-Do tourists sometimes come without somebody?
WD-Alex and Chris questions?
1:04:54 AC-Two questions really. I'm still not clear on the¿I'm still not clear on whether tourists can come and witness this ceremony, and then I'm curious to know on how this class, this age set of boys, feels now because there's this important right is denied them or delayed.
WD-(says let's ask Alex's question to the Dogon and wants to ask for permission to take photos and thank the elder).
1:06:32 WD-So the last few questions. The boys who were supposed to be circumcised today. It must be a tremendous let down if they were excited. How do they feel about the delay?
WD-Is it a problem for them?
R-Esca c'est un problem? (is this a problem)
WD-Has it stopped them from becoming a man?
1:08:21 R-He says that the children are not happy, even some of them are crying. And he says also their generation took one year of delay.
AC-But they understand of course that it would happen?
1:08:53 WD-But do they have to, you mentioned one month before the event they have to go, you know you mentioned two months before the event they had to go out and get the wood, do they have to do that all over again?
AC-No they must have to spend an extra entire year by themselves by their age-sets separated from their families.
WD-No, no, we don't know that. We haven't asked them.
AC-They've moved out of their house into their own age-set hut. Do they stay there, or do they go back to their families?
1:10:04 R-No, no, no, they didn't do anything, they are still with their families.
1:10:08 AC-Didn't they move into their own hut and move away from their families for the last two months?
1:10:14 WD-No, but that's an important question. Didn't, from what we understand, for two months before today they would've moved into their huts away from their families, did they not, for the last two months?
R-(off mic) There is a divination, there is a forecast, there is a divination to see if the harvest is good. So from that point on they would be determining okay are we going to take these kids away from their families.
WD-Okay, so this has been, I thought this was cancelled. So this has been cancelled for along time then.
1:11:02 R-Exactly. What I understand is this has been cancelled at least before the time that they were to move¿
WD-Oh that makes sense. It wasn't like it was cancelled last night. Issa has a question, but Alex had a second question which was to verify, if we can, this business of the tourists. We know that the parents are not allowed to talk to the kids but can be down a little ways, not at the ceremony, but down a little ways, tourists are welcome there, what more do you want to know about that?
AC-So the tourists could come and stand there.
WD-What they did say is the parents could come and stand where the people¿
Leo-After the ceremony. They say after the ceremony.
AC-But after the ceremony?
Leo(?)-During the ceremony we are not allowed to be here, but after.
R-You want to ask again if they are allowed to be with the parents?
1:12:38 R-They can stay with the families.
Leo-During the ceremony?
No, after the ceremony
They discuss taking a picture after the ceremony.
1:13:35 R-Exactly, in fact so they are not allowed to take pictures as long as the ceremony is taking place. When the children are here they can do everything, as they were saying before, when the children are here they can take pictures and so forth. When they dress them with their boo-boo they can take pictures, etc.
1:14:32 WD-Let me just translate, if I can, what Issa's asking is many tourists come here¿(Wade fades out).
1:14:46 Leo says he's at the sacred ritual cave of the Dogon village. He will be recording ambi.
1:15:08-1:18:52 Ambi. Sounds of the village.
1:19:12 AC-I'm standing on a cliff outcropping over looking the Songho Dogon village. That is the village called Songho that is of the Dogon people here in southeastern Mali. The architecture is unlike anything I've seen anywhere else. Perhaps it looks like the American southwest. The buildings are made of stone and of mud brick. There's more stone here than I've seen anywhere else in Mali. This is a very stony area and they're using it to make these houses. They do a very fine job of dry building these walls, for the most part, and of dry building both the fence, stone fences around the complex and the buildings themselves. They're very handsomely constructed. Quite regular, square sided. They're made of stone and square brick and then plastered with mud. Some of the houses have flat roofs that are covered over with this mud adobe, and then beside them are what they call granaries, these little small buildings that hold grain and spices and cooking things. These are square-shaped buildings but quite tall so the profile of it would be rectangle sitting on end but the footprint of the building would be completely square. They're maybe 8 feet wide and I would guess probably almost 15 feet tall and they are roofed with a kind of conical thatch so it seems they are wearing caps and set high on these buildings, maybe about 6 feet off the ground are little square doors and they open the doors and that's where they put in the grain for storage. The village spreads out here north and south running along this cliff face. There are about 3000 people here. It's a very neat, clean, well-constructed and well-maintained village. There are herds of goats down there, you can hear donkeys from time to time. There's a school in this village, there's a mosque. There's a small encampment where they can receive and house tourists. The people who live here have a reputation for being very hard working, for being very, very productive farmers. Then just behind us here, over looking this village, then just behind us here, as I turn around, there's a tall sandstone cliff with many, many paintings on it, figures that are sacred to the Dogon people. The largest of them is a snake, which is a powerful figure here. There are other figures painted on as well, some faces, some kind of an abstract representation of some spirits with the black and white paints prominently and the repainted all along the lower part of this cliff face here where they can be reached¿along the lower part of this cliff face here, up to the height of a person, sometimes higher. They must bring ladders sometimes to get up to the taller ones. And this is an area where the circumcisions are performed. This right of passage for men in the society. And what we've learned this morning in talking with the spiritual leaders of the Songho village is how important this ceremony is because these young men age 12-15 really can't take part in any part of village life until they go through circumcision and they all go through it in an age group, all the boys in the ages of 12 and 15 come up here, they have their ceremony and they get circumcised. And they stay here for a month to heal and revive themselves and then they go down and really begin to become men and take part in village life.
Leo-The class of 2003 missed out this year.
1:24:16 AC-They missed out, the most recent, but there was a poor harvest, signs of a poor harvest a few months ago and so they had a divination, what they call a divination where they looked for signs of what they should do and they decided that the harvest was not good enough. They couldn't provide a big enough feast and still have enough left over to ensure against hardships. They've essentially cancelled the circumcision ceremony and delayed it for a year. You would think perhaps that these young men would be relieved that they didn't have to go through this ceremony, but in fact it means another year of not being able to get their own farm, of not being able to marry, of not being able to join the men of the village who sit in a special house and discuss matters of the village and just sit and talk and be together as men. They can't enter into that now for another year.
Alex says next is a walk through the Dogon village of Songho
1:27:15-1:34:26 Ambi. Walk through the village, people talking, etc.
1:31:38 FX. Weaving
AC-There are three weavers working at handlooms.
1:34:44-1:37:20 Ambi. Walk through the village.
1:35:32 FX. Chicks peeping.
1:37:21-1:38:59 FX. Some musical instrument, clapping.
1:40:24-1:43:24 Ambi. Walking through the village.
1:43:20 FX. Soft pounding.
1:43:25 AC-It's a woman and her son pounding millet with large poles into a big wooden kind of like a mortar. Wooden.
1:43:32-1:44:54 Ambi. Walking through the village.
1:44:22 FX. Motor.
1:44:56 LEO-What is that, cactus? Water lilies.