Dogon culture and beliefs; translated by Roberto Cerea
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jan 2003
- near Bandiagara; village of Goumo
- 14.35 -3.616667
- :04 - 1:13:46
- near Bandiagara; Madougou market
- 14.35 -3.616667
- 1:13:47 - 1:43:58
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS Stereo
Log of DAT #:17a
Date: January 27th, 2003
IM = Issa Mohammed
R = Roberto Cerea
WD = Wade Davis
CR = Chris Rainier
AC = Alex Chadwick
CJ = Carolyn Jensen
Leo = Leo del Aguila
0:11 Leo starts talking about what the recording will be, same set-up: ms, Sonosax preamp d7.
Alex says it's the village of Goumo.
2:00-2:51 Ambi. Sounds of village of Goumo
3:03-3:41 Ambi. Sounds of village of Goumo
3:42 Woman asks Leo what his instruments are, he tells her.
6:02-7:46 Ambi. Sounds of village.
8:04-8:58 Ambi. Sounds before interview.
8:59-10:03 French (explanation of interview)
10:04 R-He says that he's very happy.
10:06 AC-Thank you. I'd like to begin by telling him a little bit about myself if I could and why we're here.
10:43 AC-When I was a boy I lived in the country, but near the capitol of Washington, D.C., but out in the country I had horses and I took care of horses and ducks and dogs for my family on our farm.
12:00 AC-I did the normal things a young man does. I went to school, then I became a warrior for several years, then I became a story-teller, and that's what I've done for many, many years, for the last 20 years I've been a story-teller.
13:42 R-He says that is a good job you are doing.
13:44 AC-In my country I'm a famous storyteller. I like especially funny stories, but I also tell stories about politics, about history, about belief, and just about the lives of ordinary people.
15:07 AC-So, now I'm at a time in my life when I'm interested in belief, in the way people believe things. I don't know if I should try to explain¿But I'm interested in stories about belief. Cause we've been around the world to talk to many different people about different stories. We now are trying to do a series of stories for people in my country about how different people have different beliefs and particularly about the afterlife. Carolyn and Angela had told us about the Dogon. We're very interested in their beliefs and this is what we'd like to come and talk to them about. This may be putting too much into one burst, but I want to tell them that we plan to come back this afternoon. We're going to the market, but we plan to come back this afternoon and this is what we'd like to talk to them about and we could, if that's okay, if we're not transgressing their secrets. We understand they have secrets and we don't want to transgress them, but to the extent that they're comfortable talking about the roles of ancestors in their lives. That's what we'd like to talk about.
18:54 R-He says he and the Dogon, we don't talk about paradise or hell, we are ready to talk about what we believe after death.
19:06 AC-When he says they don't talk about paradise¿
R-They don't talk about paradise or hell
AC-Ya, ya, that would be, we would be most grateful for that.
21:07 R-He says I am ready to talk how people they (unintelligible).
21:34 R-He's ready also to share with us his life as Hanka, how it goes to (?) to the country side, how they organize the culture of the animals, everything to do with it.
AC-We would like to¿You must be a great hunter to catch game in this country because we don't see much game around here. You must be a very skilled hunter.
R-He says it's true, I'm a very good hunter.
AC (explains that translator shouldn't say "uh-huh")
23:22 AC-Tell him that the reason we are asking these questions about the afterlife is that it's the great mystery for all of us. That every society, every group wrestles with this, "Where did we come from?", "Where are we going?", "How do we get here into life and what happens afterwards?". Every society, every group large and small, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, and many indigenous peoples around the world, they all try to answer these same questions. These are what we all wrestle with as people. And we think that the answers of the Dogon are as valid as the answers of anyone else and we're trying to gather these stories and share these stories.
26:44 R-He says that what they are receiving from the ancestors and they're still doing now, he says that when somebody dies they put the body in a special place and they make a, they perform a sacrifice, they make fetishes. But about paradise, about hell, about God they don't know anything. Who has ever seen God?
27:13 AC-When a child asks, when a Dogon child first learns that maybe their grandfather or grandmother is sick and then dying and when the child is sad and then mourning, what would a Dogon parent say to a child about this person who is gone?
28:50 R-When somebody's sad in the family, a child, the only thing we do is we tell him don't cry, we are here to help you.
29:03 AC-Is there a, is, do they, we think that the ancestors are available somehow to the Dogon, do they speak to the ancestors? Do they tell the child that the ancestor is still with them as a spirit in some way?
30:43 R-In the past they used to have a direct access to the ancestors, but now the only way by which they can have access to their ancestors is during their dreams.
AC-During their dreams? How long ago did they have direct contact with their ancestors?
32:16 R-Long, long time ago, and for example Asama doesn't remember the time. Why? Because many things have been changing. Their religion, so many secrets disappeared and the ancestors decided not to have any more communication with them.
33:35 R-In fact he doesn't know who stopped the communication because he doesn't remind. When he was a child these things were not anymore practiced. So he doesn't know if these things were stopped because the people decided not the communicate anymore with their ancestors or because the ancestors they got upset so they didn't want any direct access to the people.
34:06 AC-I want to come back. I want to explore this further, but earlier he said they only see them in their dreams. Does he mean dreams the way I understand them, or does he mean, I mean I dream of my grandfather, does he mean that, or does he mean they enter some state, a trance of some kind?
35:19 R-He's talking about the dream you do when you are sleeping.
35:25 AC-Did he know people when he was a boy. When he was a boy did the Hogon have the power to speak to the ancestors?
R-You are talking about the Hogon or the Dogon?
AC-The Hogon when he was a boy.
36:35 R-When he was a baby he learned that the Hogon were able to do it, but he has never saw it, he has never witnessed.
36:49AC-He's not sure whether that has to do with new religions coming to the area, the Christians and Muslims, what else would explain why the, the way this ability is no longer with them?
38:36 R-He says that it is especially because of the arrival of the new religions. In the past before the new religions people were unanimous and they were speaking the same language, but now there are many languages that are spoken and so they are no longer unanimous. When they speak, they speak about the difference.
AC-Is that true in this village?
41:15 R-So he says here now in the village they keep the traditions they receive from their parents. But for example in this case he was in Bamako where there was a senior brother that was a hogon that died so he came back, but when he came back he came back dirty. Not anymore pure because he moved to Bamako. So that is another reason why people, traditions are changing because people they move. In the past they're always on the same spot. They didn't move to Bandiagara. So always here so able to keep the traditions.
42:07 AC-So he has lived in Bamako. How long did he, when did he live in Bamako?
AC-Why do they need a great hunter in Bamako?
R-He was in Bamako hunting.
AC-(laughs) He was in Bamako hunting? What is there to hunt in Bamako?
R-He said he was hunting hyenas
43:39 AC-Is this, so this is something that is happening with the Dogon, they go to the city and then they are no longer pure, and then when they go back to their culture they're no longer pure, so what is happening to the Dogon life?
45:19 R-He says that it's not true that they lose completely all the secrets because for example about himself, he's says that he's keeping all the secrets concerning the sacrifices and the fetishes. When they perform the sacrifice when it goes for hunting he knows how to manage with the hunt so it's not losing only his heritage.
46:06 AC-Did his brother, who was the Hogon before him, had he gone to Bamako?
47:35 R-When his father was still alive he was the Hogon of the village. And at that moment the senior brother was in Ghana and Asama was in Bamako. When the father, the Hogon died, the senior brother came back from Ghana and became the Hogon. So when this last person died he came from Bamako, he became the Hogon.
48:05 AC-In his father's generation¿
R-So if he dies this one will become the Hogon and if he dies this one is the Hogon.
48:25 AC-In his father's generation did young men leave Goumo to go elsewhere to make money?
R-He has never been in Bamako, his father.
AC-So his father lived his entire life here?
R-He spent all his entire life here.
49:11 AC-Seems like a, so I mean they have lost in the process of going to the city and going to other places they've lost secrets in just a generation, big secrets?
50:58 R-He says they didn't lose anything and for example they keep doing the sacrifice they have the fetishes. Nobody goes prays has a (?), nobody goes to the church, and for example he's seen a junior brother has eaten the fire and also this guy Asamaka ate the fire.
AC-They can eat fire?
?-Eat fire, yes.
R-He says yes.
51:43 AC-How do they eat fire?
52:54 R-He says that they eat the fire just occasionally for big ceremonies. For example if he dies all the big hunters they come here and they make a celebration and they eat the fire. The same 10 days ago in the village next close to here, Tegu, the Hogon died (French) so they eat the fire from the sunset to the sunrise, all the night.
AC-And that was when his brother ate the fire?
R-Yes, his junior brother was there, that moment he ate the fire.
AC-And he's alright, his mouth is okay because he know the secret?
54:58 R-He doesn't have any problem because he has the secret of eating the fire. In Tegu now there are 10 people who can eat the, still have the fire. The rest of the population now they became a Christian, they became a Muslim, so they lost the secrets and if they eat the fire they have problems, but the 10 we are talking about don't have any problem.
AC-That's a powerful secret
56:28 R-He says that is the performagized(?) by the hunters and when it is time to come they bring their weapons with them and those spears and they take of the fire, they eat it.
57:32 R-(This part is mixed with French interpreter speaking over, but good information about eating fire anyway). Aloo was saying that it is a special mental state of psychology for a trance, they start competing against each other and they start it by drinking.
AC-Wade has studied this as well in Haiti and elsewhere. I mean it seems completely impossible that people could do this, yet people do it. There's some power.
W-Was he translating directly from the prof. and Aloo was giving interpretation, or was it¿
R-I try to ask (French)
R-Literally what was translated was literally what¿
W- (he wants to pursue a few questions regarding mental state and fire eating.)
1:01:52 AC-Is there a way that you prepare yourself to eat fire? Is there something that you do to protect yourself from burning and is it an ember that you pick up from the fire?
R-They are eating the burning embers
W-one thing we need to ask him, too is whether they eat the ember when the Hogon dies. Ask him if he just sat around the fire with us and ate an ember whether it would burn him.
1:03:33 AC-Does it need to be a powerful ceremony like the death of the, what did he say in response? I'm sorry?
R-They have some special secrets they have and they perform before it.
1:03:53 AC-Does it have to involve a powerful event like the death of a hogon? If we sat around the fire tonight just at our campsite, if they ate the fire would they be burned?
1:05:11 R-He says just for special occasions like the death of a hogon or the death of a big hunter who has got the many animals during his life, but for example if we want them to do it they don't.
1:05:28 AC-Could you say that we are going to go to market because we think this is an important part of Dogon life and we understand it's scheduled today. I would like to come back afternoon, after the market and talk with him some more. And since we're going to the market and we have cars with us and people with us, is there anything we could get for him and bring back to the village?
1:07:07 R-He says he wants to come with us because in fact out of the market when we are here he comes with us. So now we are about to move he comes with us.
1:07:39 W-(Wade wants to clarify the question asked earlier) The question is if he alone, if there was no occasion, could he eat the fire without being burned, that's the question.
1:09:12 R-He says that he can do it but he doesn't do it, he doesn't perform for himself because it's no good for himself.
1:09:23 W-Could you ask him what a fetish is.
1:11:17 R-He says that for example they have a fetish here, you saw, you took pictures. These fetishes, they make a sacrifice before going for hunting a goat or a chicken and they slaughter the animal and just the men they eat, the men here in the village they eat the meat, so they make the sacrifice just before hunting just to be protected by the spirits, or they make a sacrifice when there is a disease, when somebody's sick
Leo needs one minute of silence
1:12:26-1:13:40 Ambi. Village sounds
1:14:09 LEO-Where are we?
G-We are at Madougou Market
1:15:00-1:27:59 Ambi of market.
1:15:16 FX. Goat
1:25:40 FX. Motor
1:28:20 AC-Godfried where are we and who are all these people?
1:28:22 G-Well we are in the Madougou Market where an exchange of goods actually goes on every Monday. And of course this is where the Taoudenni salt you've been following all along ends up and goes to many Dogon countries. And all of the people you see here are mostly Dogons because of course we are in a Dogon area and we are in one of the Dogon towns. And you have the (? Or the ?), as they call them. And people come from as far as Madougou, they bring their goods that are up here for sell.
AC-There are hundreds of people here.
1:29:05 G-Exactly because all the encampments that you find around here, this is their meeting point, this is where it happens.
AC-All the encampments.
G-Ya, exactly, not only the Dogons in the valleys, but also the Dogons in the mountains they come here for trading.
1:29:24 AC-I've seen a little section for selling chili peppers down there.
1:29:28 G-Those are the spices. The gardens we went through yesterday, this is where they end up. And people come to buy them because Dogon onion sacks said to be one of the best onions in the world, not only in Africa.
1:29:42 AC-And they're selling fabric here, and shoes, and clothes.
G-Ya we see a lot of indigo clothes just like the one right behind you. This is very famous with the Dogons. And of course every year just like a full line of men will give a kalabash to a wife to say the love continues, the Dogons also do the same by giving an indigo cloth always to the woman.
AC-So you have to buy an indigo cloth and then give it to the woman.
G-And it's mostly bought by the men to give to the wives.
AC-Well ask her how much that indigo cloth costs.
G-It's 3,500, and I would say it's 50 cents.
Leo-That's about 5 dollars
G-Five dollars, ya
Leo-That's not going to buy you any peace, Alex.
They joke, Alex buys indigo cloth for Carolyn, presents the cloth to her, and Carolyn thanks him.
1:34:16 FX. Goat
1:34:26 AC-There's salt here in the market place in tablets that are cut up, and this is salt from Taoudenni, for sure, and we're¿we're in Madougou, we're in a market.
AC-Madougou? Madougou. We're in Madougou which must be, I would guess almost a thousand miles from Taoudenni. A 1240 km.
1:35:04 AC-(very loud goat throughout) We're in Madougou. We're in this market down in Dogon country. We're at least 800 miles from Taoudenni. And here in this market place¿well we find a loud goat¿There are blocks of salt for sale¿
Waiting for goat to get softer, Alex is off camera asking about the salt and where it comes from.
AC-Does he know where the salt comes from?
1:36:50 G-He only knows it comes from Timbuktu.
1:38:32 AC-This is the butchers section of the market, freshly slaughtered goat. And the grilling section of the market where they're grilling freshly slaughtered goat.
1:38:47-1:41:21 Ambi. Market
1:40:01 FX. Motor
1:40:13 FX. Music from radio.
1:40:25-1:40:58 FX. Goat bleats.
1:41:36-1:42:56 Ambi. Market
1:42:57 AC-Here comes a man leading a camel. I haven't seen one of those since we left the desert.
1:43:03-1:43:59 Ambi. Market
1:44:01 Leo says they are in a different village, he'll be recording greetings of the elders.
1:45:02-1:47:25 Ambi. Greetings of the elders (French and Dogon).