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Dogon culture; translated by Roberto Cerea  

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NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
25 Jan 2003

    Geography
  • Mali
    Mopti
    Locality
  • near Bandiagara; Unknown Dogon village
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 14.35   -3.616667
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
  • SONY TCD-D7
    Microphones
  • Sennheiser MKH 30
  • Sennheiser MKH 50
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS Stereo

Show: Mali - Dogon
Log of DAT #: 16A
Engineer: Leo Del Aguila
Date: Jan 25, 2003

IM = Issa Mohammed
R = Roberto Cerea
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila

¿ Interview with the elder in the Dogon Village that has been Islamisized

(00:00:02) Ambi: Children talking close to mic, adults talking in background. Sounds of shuffling, moving around, general crowded sounds. Children yell, adults speak to each other. (1:50) trucks start up, one after another, motor comes close to mic. Sound of someone spitting. Another truck starts up and revs. Tape stops and starts again (2:30)

(00:02:40) CJ: SO, here we are in Dogon country, the afternoon of the first day. We have come to the village where the professor from Bamako has relatives and we are walking across a field under the cliffs where we are going to interview the Hogon, one of the highest people in Dogon culture. And this is 16A on the afternoon of Saturday the 25th of January, 2003. And Leo is recording MS. So, it could be a pretty interesting but long interview.

(00:03:21) LD: It's also breezy.

(00:03:23) Ambi: Sounds of wind across mic. Of people walking, footsteps on gravel and dirt. Birds hooting.

(00:03:32) AC: Pretty nice birds up there

(00:03:54) LD: Ok, I'm going to be recording some birds here¿These are crows, I think. (footsteps of Leo, bird hooting, stops walking, no sound from birds.) Pardon, they just disappeared. Footsteps on gravel. Footsteps stop. More birds hooting in distance. Footsteps begin again. In distance, bird/ monkey hooting. Soft footsteps.

(00:06:25) Leo rejoins group. People talking, moving, sound of wind on mic makes it sound busier than it is. People talking, car horn beeps, sound of birds. People's talking gets louder. Someone talking in French with someone else, talking about talking. Leo and Alex are talking about the logistics of interviewing the Hogon. Talking about how to take the shot, Chris Reiner talking, people continue talking in French. Un-relentless bird in background chirps animatedly. So many people talking, can't really understand what anyone is saying. Voices of (sounds like) Chris Reiner, Wade Davis, Max block, man speaking Dogon language in background, another one speaking in French. Talking about camera positions, how to shoot best. How to mic best. Leo is back involved in conversation, so is Carolyn. Deciding that Roberto is going to be translator. People continue talking.

(00:15:58) Wade Davis: First of all, I would like to acknowledge the honor that we feel to be able to even be in the presence of a man in his age and his knowledge, to be together with all of his colleagues of equally eminent age, and so for us to have come so far to be actually able to speak with the Hogon of the Dogon is a huge honor for us.

***Translator (Roberto [R] to French, another translator translates it to Dogon language, then to Hogon. Then Hogon speaks, then translated back to French, then to English.***

(00:17:24) R: He is thanking us too.

(00:17:26) WD: and what we are trying to do as we travel around the world is to suggest to the entire population of the world that every culture has its own critical importance, and that the vision that every culture represents is a vision that contributes to the well being of humanity.

***Translation***

(00:18:51) R: He's thanking us again, he says that we are very happy that we are here.

(00:18:56) WD: And one of the things that interests us in every culture is how a culture comes to terms with life, the passing of life, God, and the spiritual realm. And we are especially interested in how within the Dogon culture the people have come to understand the world that will be waiting for them after they pass away.

***Translation***

(00:21:45) R: He says that after the death, the son inherits everything from his father. More translation. (22:08) He says that we cannot think about what happens after the death. More translation. (23:04) After the death there are funerals. More translation. (23:25) During the funerals, they Griyo, the storytellers, they start singing about the history. I asked which history, they said the history of the ancestors. More translation. Mostly speaking Dogon (25:38) In the past, after the death, there was nothing, no paradise, nothing. More translation. (26:08) But now, people have studied, they say after the death, there is something.

(00:26:14) WD: And this is the movement of Islam into the region. Let's ask the question in a more useful way. How is it that the Dogon traditionally gave honor to the ancestors, and what was the nature of the relationship with the ancestors. We have our own ways of relating to our ancestors, and we always honor them in many many many different ways in our society, and I would love to know how to Dogon honor their ancestors in their world.

***Translation***

(00:28:15) R: In the past, they used to prepare beer, implied, millet (?) beer, and to put somewhere, implied that the people, the ancestors are supposed to come and to drink the beer offered by people still alive

(00:28:31) WD: And do the people not make beer anymore?

***Translation***

(00:28:55) R: Today, some people still do, and some others, they don't do anymore.

(00:29:22) WD: What is the role that the Hogon plays, in the culture, in the society, in the community.

***Translation***

(00:30:13) R: The hogon has a different role from the rest of the population More translation. (30:32) The Hogon has a fetish. More translation. (30:54) The Hogon doesn't speak with the rest of the population. More translation. (31:02) The Hogon doesn't eat the same meals as the rest of the population. More translation. (31:12) The people, they don't go to visit him. More translation. (31:20) And the same, he doesn't go to visit other houses. More translation. (31:34) Where the Hogon in the public place, square, he sits, the rest of the people cannot, is not allowed to sit. More translation. (31:46) And the same, he doesn't sit down where the rest of the people sit. More translation. (34:04) He makes his own activities with his assistant. More translation. (32:23) If you tease the Hogon, you will be fined. More translation. (32:44) Sp, if somebody makes something wrong about somebody else, it is the Hogon who is in charge of sanctioning the one who is responsible for that. More translation. (32:57) And the sanction, says the professor, is a spell. A spelling? A spell.

(00:33:07) WD: Can the Hogon heal as well as punish?

***Translation***

(00:33:33) R: The Hogon doesn't heal. More translation. (33:41) He doesn't work, also.

(00:33:43) WD: Can the Hogon communicate with the ancestors?

***Translation***

(00:34:17) R: With the assistance of his fetish, he is able to communicate with the death life.

(00:34:25) WD: And what kind of communication does he learn, or how does he help the people by doing that?

***Translation*** Dogon laughing, no translation of what they are laughing about.

(00:35:20) WD: Alex, any thoughts, because it is a little tricky because we've got this Islamic thing going on in this community, and these are really impossible big questions to ask.

(00:35:35) AC: No I think you're doing fine, because your¿the key question¿yay, exactly, what is it

(00:35:38) WD: Well that last question we¿We can't ask that question. They just said we can't ask that question.

(00:35:45) AC: Oh, we can't ask that question, oh because that's part of the secret.

(00:35:51) CJ: Can you ask what role the ancestors play in the daily lives of people¿

(00:35:57) WD: Sure¿I have probably asked that question but I will do it again (36:12) Is it fair to ask what role the ancestors play in the daily lives of the people?

***Translation*** More laughing¿WD is speaking in French too.

(00:38:00) R: There is a diff, a different world between the ancestors and the people alive. More translation. (38:12) In the past they had the fetishes related with the ancestors, I think related with the (?) of the ancestor. And now, they are all Muslim. More translation, more speaking in Dogon (39:03) When we notice, that so the professor said, the Islam changed everything, was translated in the Hogon (?) the ones that became Muslim, yes, but not everybody is Muslim.

(00:39:16) WD: Well, I'd like to talk about, for a moment, because we've been very fortunate in traveling through Mali to have had the opportunity and honor to speak with many Imams and to learn a great deal about Islam, and what makes our chance to be here exciting is that we'd really like to learn about those beliefs and those ideas that have not been influenced by Islam here, and that were of the Dogon before Islam arrived, and that's kindof the world that we would like to explore. So, the Hogon is saying that there are many people here who have been influenced by Islam and there are others who still follow more traditional ways. If you could just tell us your thoughts on that.

***Translation***

(00:40:21) R: I think a better way to ask their question is to let them know that we respect them as Muslims and we respect their current faith. You see, however we would just like to know what belief they practiced before coming into Islam. Because even in Mecca if you ask the Arabs what were the beliefs they practiced before Islam, they will humbly share it with you. (WD: that's fine with me Roberto)

***Translation***

(00:43:17) R: In the past before the Islamism, you had a people keeping three or four gods. More translation. (43:43) So in the past you had people that they used to take stones, put the stones somewhere to say that is my ancestor. More translation. (44:00) They also used to slaughter chickens on the fetish. More translation. (44:42)In the past they used to have the house of the dead people, where they collecting pots and they put into every pot the millet beer for the ancestors. More translation. (45:38) In the past they used to have also the fetishes for collectivity and for the community. And in front of these fetishes they used to dance and make festivals. More translation. (46:03) Apart from that, in every house, everybody has his own fetish. More translation. (46:29) And also the Hogon used to have his own fetish. More translation. (46:40) And the day when he was making his sacrifice, all the people stay in the house and not to go for fun. More translation. (47:11) Sundays are special for the Dogon, and people they didn't used to work for that time. More translation. (47:22) And also, everybody had some special days in accordance with his own fetishes. More translation. (47:48) So on the day of the sacrifice, the people they didn't talk to anybody. More translation. More laughing. (48:30) He thinks there are so many that it is impossible to pass over everyone.

(00:48:35) WD: Of the fetishes.

***Translation***

(00:48:39) WD: But I have heard that there were three main Gods of the Dogon, the God of the earth, sky, and water. Can you ask him the names of the Gods and to tell us a little about the character of each one?

***Translation***

(00:49:48) R: He can say something about that. More translation. (49:59) The first God is the creator. More translation. (50:37) After this creator you have the fetishes, that the Dogon they used to do, and where they used to make sacrifices. More translation. More laughing. (51:24) The God of the water where the stones, where people used the make sacrifices in case of drought. He said also stones, thunder and lightening, connected with thunder and lighting.

(00:51:43) WD: And the name of that God was Nomo?

***Translation*** Dogon upset. WD apologizes, says it is his fault (in French).

(00:52:17) WD: Ask him the name of the God of water.

(00:52:48) R: He says that the God of the water doesn't have a name, but he said his name is Ari.

(00:53:00) WD: And who is Ama?

***Translation*** Laughing¿

(00:53:33) AC: They don't know the name of God apart from the Marabu. I would like to insist.

(00:53:40) WD: You see here is problem, the translator is Islamic and has total contempt for the way that he is answering the questions and posing the questions. That's a big part of the problem. We'll just have to try to work around that some how.

(00:54:07) ?: Yay, I think the only way to really go around that is to let the translator and the group of the elders, that again, we know who you are right now, but there were some beliefs, and there were some deities that were given some specific names.

(00:54:25) WD: But we already did that, we said exactly that already. We already said that. We said exactly that.

(00:54:30) ?: You've got to keep going back there. You see Africa is a continent of repetition. You have to keep honoring and asking, honor and ask. Or maybe we'll find the whole version¿

(00:54:47) CR: The whole fox tradition.

(00:54:48) WD: Yay, I was just about to go there. That was my one, I was going to go into divination. Let's just do that because we were going to try to set that up and photograph that. Let's just drop the business of the Gods altogether. (55:05) One of the things that we have heard wonderful stories about is the divination of the pale fox. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

***Translation***More laughing. Dogon talking amongst themselves¿

(00:57:40) R: In the past they used to interpret, to use this kind of divination. More translation. (57:49) In the evening, they did a kind of millet porridge. More translation. (58:00) They go in front of the whole of the Fox, More translation. (58:05) they put two sticks. More translation. (58:17) So, by putting the porridge on the ground, they ask the fox to tell them if the harvest will be good or not. More translation. (58:34) So in accordance with the sticks, they know whether the harvest will be good or not.

(00:58:44) WD: Is that still practiced here?

***Translation***

(00:59:18) R: They say no, they don't practice any more also because the fox doesn't live anymore in this region. More translation. (59:58) They knew in the past in the village at least 7 or 8 people who were able to practice the fix divination, but now these people they died, they are dead, and also the fox they left.

(01:00:14) WD: I am so grateful for everyone here to help us. In all the years the Hogon has been alive, he has seen many changes. The arrival of Islam, the arrival of tourists, does he have any concerns that he would like to share with us about the impact that these changes have had on the Dogon people and their culture.

***Translation***

(01:02:38) R: With the arrival of Islam, the tradition tends to disappear. More translation. (01:02:50) Because the Marabus came here telling them that there traditions were not good. More translation. (01:03:33) With the arrival of Islam, tradition has almost disappeared, but there is still some place where they keep, they are faithful to the traditions. More translation. (01:03:52) So, people instead of going to the tradition, they prefer to go to the mosque and pray in the mosque. More translation. (01:05:03) In the past, if the rain didn't come during the rainy season, they used to go to the fetish priest to ask to be helped, so now if there is the same problem, they go to pray in the Mosque. More translation. (01:07:27) The tourists, they brought a lot of new things. More translation. (01:08:20) With the arrival of the tourists, or the arrival of Caucasian people, white people, our way of dressing is changing. More translation. (01:08:36) They brought carts to carry things, to transport things. In the past they used donkeys. More translation. (01:08:48) Also the language has changed. More translation. (01:08:55) So many people they speak other language, they are not our language. More translation. (01:10:26) He says that the changes as, all these things have changed a lot¿For example in the past if they a death to announce, they used horses, now they use radios. Now everybody in two minutes knows who is dead. More translation. (01:10:57) He says that is good, positive, instead of being negative.

(01:11:03) WD: Let me finish with a question. We obviously have great respect for Islam and great respect for traditions, but I would, we've asked this question which sometime seems naïve but we ask it of everybody that we meet, and that is, what will the world lose if the traditional Dogon culture disappears. If he was to tell, he's an old man with great wisdom, and if he was to be given the chance to tell the entire world about what he feels would be lost if the Dogon tradition disappeared, or changed to such an extent that it was no longer recognizably Dogon as we know it, what would he want to say to the world, what will be lost.

***Translation***

(01:14:10) R: He says that we can't lose the tradition, because now we are writing everything concerned with the tradition in the past. More translation. (01:14:29) So even if the tradition is lost because everybody is practicing it in a way, we are leaving behind us traces of this traditions in the book.

(01:14:43) WD: But is a book the same as a living culture?

***Translation*** Laughing¿

(01:15:57) R: He says of course, the book cannot replace the live tradition, but when it is written, it cannot be lost forever. More translation. (01:16:32) He says something about his ancestors, that he had a fetish with the name of Mori. And now, I think that he was teasing him, remind him that his grandfather was a fetish.

(01:16:56) WD: Chris, Alex, anything?

(01:16:59) AC: I don't think I could get anything through here.

(01:17:00) WD: Yay, I agree. Well, just thank them we know they are old and they must be tired from all of these questions and we are just very grateful for everything they have done for us. (AC: If they could just give us the Hogon's name) I have his name written down.

***Translation***

(01:17:55) AC: Is he saying that no one talks to the ancestors anymore?

***Translation***

(01:18:14) R: He is thanking us, but they have a suggestion. More translation. (01:18:31) They would like that we help them with their road from the Dogon site to¿. So they have more tourists¿ More translation. Laughing¿ (01:19:40) They said that they have still now sites, call it place of the ancestors where there is somebody communicating with them. More translation. Laughing¿ (01:20:08) His status doesn't allow him to answer to this question (AC: his what) His status, status, his role doesn't allow him to answer to this question.

(01:20:18) AC: Maybe there is someone else who can answer the question?

***Translation***

(01:20:28) R: Without his authorization, anybody can ask to this question.

(01:20:35) CR: We might have better luck deeper in Dogon country¿we might have better luck in the next few days.

(01:20:41) WD: Yay, I think¿Bon, Merci Beaucoup. The say their thank-yous and goodbyes.

Approx 1:26:00 tape goes silent. Ambi comes back on at (1:21:55) CJ: So, where is he? LD: Yay where is he? CJ: He might be behind the tree. LD: No, he's not. General Ambi, birds, footsteps. Tape stops and starts.

LD: Leo talking about recording goats. Have just spent night in Dogon encampment. In field, morning, dust field interspersed with trees. Begins recording of goats (1:23:45) Goats baaing, birds chirping¿LD: You hear Alex in the background shouting a little bit, so I'm not sure how much I'm going to use of this, but I am trying to get close to these guys. Goat sounds continue. LD:I am trying to move away from the encampment here¿ If no goats then birds¿ goat sounds continues in background. Can hear birds chirping, sticks breaking underneath footsteps. Footsteps stop, just chirping and baaing in background. Footsteps pick up again. Can hear people in background to, faintly. LD: well, I'm moving about, again, trying to find another spot.

Tape ends at (1:32:07)

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