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Explaining Dogon ritual song  

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Village ambi  

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Explaining Dogon ritual Mask Dance  

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Wade Davis, Chris Rainier  

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Ethnosphere; Dogon culture; Cultural sensitivity; Tourism  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Jan 2003

    Geography
  • Mali
    Mopti
    Locality
  • near Bandiagara; village of Goumo
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 14.35   -3.616667
    Recording TimeCode
  • :04 - 52:19
    Geography
  • Mali
    Mopti
    Locality
  • near Bandiagara; village of Tireli
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 14.35   -3.616667
    Recording TimeCode
  • 52:21 - 1:56:20
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS Stereo

Show: Mali-Dogon
Log of DAT #:20A
Engineer: Leo
Date: January 28th-29th, 2003

Leo announces this is tape 20

Alex says it's the 28th of January, in the village of Goumo. Recording music in the village.

0:21 AC-This village is built way high up on the cliff side. It's made of mud, brick, and stone, mud adobe. There are these caves up above us filled with the bones of ancestors.

1:45-2:19 Ambi. Kids playing around, sounds of village.

2:22-6:23 FX. Drums (kids still talking underneath sound)

6:32-9:41 Ambi. Kids start to sing along with the drum beats, clapping along. Still talking in background.

9:42-12:38 Ambi. Singing, clapping, whistle blowing, no more talking in background.

12:49 Music starts up again, Leo and other crew trying to choreograph sound.

13:52-31:39 Ambi. Music. Acapella and clapping, drums come in a little into the piece.

33:20-38:06 Ambi. More music. Drums and singing.

38:50-41: 56 Ambi. Man singing acapella.

42:00 Ambi. Man singing, woman screams. Walking.

42:56 Woman screams, whistle blows, man singing.

43:30 Two men singing acapella, answer back and forth

44:42 Man restarts singing after a drum beat. Woman screams.

46:20 singing builds to a crescendo with whistle, scream, drum, and singer.

47:20 Man restarts singing after short pause.

48:28 song ends.
48:30 Clapping, people shout "Bravo!"

48:40 AC-Can you explain that?

49:13 R-He says it is a song used for hunters and sometimes used when there are funerals.

French

49:29 AC-He seems to be telling a story.

50:03 Dogon

51: 27 R-In the song, they are humming the answers.

French

R-They say we left it to us the things we are going to use against the animals.

French

51:50 R-With your power I killed many animals, lions, elephants.

52:00 AC-Great. Thank you very much. Ask him if he'd like to come down and have some beer with us. (Laughing)

52:23 Ambi-crunchy walking, a horse neighs, a dog barks.

52:53 FX-Dog barking.

53:50 Ambi-walking sounds up close.

55:33 Ambi-walking. Young voices join the group.

56:20 Ambi-walking, baby crying.

56: 33 Ambi-walking up close.

56:51 Leo-Does this guy know where he's taking us?

AC-I don't know.

57:33 walking slows.

57:59 Ambi-Dogon speaking

58:20 Ambi walking.

58:36 Ambi rattle

58:57 LEO-Where are we?

AC-In the village of Tireli and it's early morning light and we've arrived for a Dogon dance.

59:09 AC-This village is at the base of the escarpment and you see these huge cliffs¿sandstone cliffs rising above us. Reds, browns, yellows and darker colors. And this just extraordinary Dogon architecture all along the base of it here--buildings of stone and mud. The granaries--these very modern-looking constructions with conical thatched roofs.

59:53 CR?-And then ancestral caves above us looking down over the village.

1:00:10 Ambi-talking, rattle.

1:00:41 Ambi something extremely large being dragged.

1:01:20 Ambi men talking, with children playing in background.

1:02:25 Ambi discussion heats up.

1:02:48-1:23:49 Ambi of music: Mask Dance

1:02:48 Drum starts beating, metal ringing. Talking slowly dies down.

1:03:10s Drums and metal.

1:03:45 flute joins mix.

1:04:20 distant chanting of men's voices, with drums, metal, and flute.

1:04: 30 Chanting moves closer

1:05:00 Ambi of chanting, drums, cymbals, tinkling metal continues.

1:06:55 drumming speeds up.

1:07:12 chanting stops for drum solo.

1:07:20 chanting joins drums again.

10:07:47 drumming speeds up.

1:07:50 chanting stops for drum solo.

1:08:09 man's solo.

1:08:27 chanting chorus rejoins, with drums, flutes, tinkling metal.

1:09:58 drums and flute solo.

1:10:19 brief clapping and whooping.

1:10:25 music continues with chanting, shouts, drums, tinkling metal and flutes.

1:12:10 chanting stops for drum solo.

1:12 30 chanting continues.

1:13:15 drumming slows and changes beat.

1:13:20 new chanting song emerges.

1:14 32. chant stops. Drum solo

1:14:40 new song emerges. Continuation of chanting, drumming, flute, tinkling.

1:23:49 Exhilarating scream at end.

1:23:53-1:25:02 Man shouting/ chanting (off mic)

1:25:05 Man starts chanting again.

1:25:18 FX. Crowd screams

1:25:19 Man continues chanting.

1:25:23-1:25:37 FX. Crowd screams during chanting.

1:26:51-1:27:22 Ambi. Background sound of Dogon village.

1:27:25 R-So the two first masks they are the bandits, the masks represent the bandits. In the Dogon village there is a society of bandits and in Dogon society they are free, of course they have to abide by some of the rules, they are free to do almost everything they want in the village. So now these masks represent the society of some of the groups in some of the villages of the Dogon.
French

1:27:56 R-So that is the Canaga mask. There are many interpretations about these geometric patterns. The most comic meaning is to say this part of the mask represents the Earth, the other part represents the sky, and in the middle you have the human being relating Earth and sky. Canaga mask.

French

(There are sounds of photographers taking pictures in background)

1:28:22 R-Exactly, when the movement of the matter represents the movement of the Earth.

French

R-That is the cow.

French

R-That is the Guinea Flower mask. You see when he's dancing the mask, he's moving like this, the bird is eating something in the ground. That is the antelope.

French

R-Is the female of deer.

French

R-That is the hyena, one, two, three, that is the hyena.

French

R-He says that he has nice ear, he says that they are very, very clear.

French

R-That is a fetish priest. Animist priest, literally fetish priest.

French

R-So literally a superior woman. I ask what he means by superior woman.

French

1:30:07 R-Okay, he says that the mask in fact they are found in the bush by a woman, all the masks, not just this one, and when she came back she put the masks in the granary of her house.

French

1:30:40 R-Okay he says that the men they discovered the masks in the granary and they were very, very impressed by the masks and they took the masks and they adopted the masks. So now just the men in the village wear the masks, but they decided to have one or two masks, in that case two, in honor of that woman who found the masks.

French

R-That is again an animal that came from the bush, it's the bise, the female of the dere. That is the rabbit.

French

R-This mask represents a person who has a common disease here, when you have a big lack of salt. I don't know¿goiter. And the dance is moving like an actually sick person.

French

1:31:43 R-So that is a Fulani mask, a mask represent Fulani.

French

R-I ask why, he says because they are more light than us.

French

1:32:01 R-He says when we came here we found, we came here centuries ago, we found the Fulani already living in the area, and they were warriors. They are still warriors and they are represented as warriors by the spear.

French

1:32:20 R-That is a Mosi hunt because in the direction of the north you have the Fulani, in the direction of the east side you have the Mosi.

French

R-He says when we won they became mostly our slaves, when they won we became their slaves.

French

R-The name of Siriga mask.

French

R-The color is the color of the snake fetish, an important color here.

French

R-He says the oldest person in the village doesn't wash himself with the natural water, but is the snake leaping him.

French

1:33:53 R-Every person who is at least 60 years old is considered a Siriga.

French

R-Like 60 or 70 a Siriga dancer comes, so every 60 years.

French

R-He says the last Sigi was in '72, the next one is 2025.

French

1:34:36 R-He says that when they left another country they came here by the help of a bird. A bird with long legs. And they had the help of the Fulani¿

French

R-The hair is the hair of the Fulani girl, and the breast is the breast of a Dogon girl.

French

1:36:09-1:37:19 Ambi. Setting up to do song.

1:37:52-1:39:48 Ambi. Men singing in acapella.

1:40:35 AC-This is a Radio Expeditions field recording January 29th, 2003 in the village of Tireli, where the Dogon are putting on a dance of the masks.

1:41:06 AC-It's just the end of the, almost the end of the first Ethnoshpere expedition, and I just wondered if you had any thoughts or ideas of how this one has gone and how you might operate in the future.

WD-Well I'm in kind of a bad mood right now to answer that question¿

1:41:46 AC-All right, I just want to ask you about the experience that you had and what is it that upset you both about it?

1:41:56 WD-Well for one it upsets me that we participated in it ourselves. I mean we are the ones who came here, um, you go ahead first.

1:42:10 CR-Well I was just opening up the discussion as there opens the debate. You guys paid for a little music performance yesterday. Quite obviously they don't do that that often, they did it for us, they had fun, so at what point does that experience that we all thoroughly enjoyed turn into an act of commerce where you're suddenly in a village where you're moving massive amounts of tourists through? There's two groups that came tumbling down the hill, there's a group that's about to hear it, it becomes commerce, and then it becomes this fake experience. So it's a bizarre thing to find yourself suddenly a part of the process.

1:42:56 WD-It's kind of a balancing act. It's not as if anyone has any illusions as the first to come to the Dogon country, people have been coming here for years. It's more of the industrialization of tourism that seems to be so evident here.

AC-But that's what's bothering you is that you were a part of it.

1:43:15 WD-I was not a part of it. I had nothing to do with the setting up this dance ritual this morning. I would never do it, and I would never take part in it. I had nothing to do with it.

AC-But we did it as a group.

1:43:29 WD-Yes, but I didn't do it. And I'm not blaming Chris, or I'm not blaming anyone for setting it up. I personally do not believe in paying money for performances. I don't believe in paying money for cultural experiences in that sense.

AC-But if you want to tell the story of the Ethnosphere, if you want to use television, radio, photographs and books and magazine articles to get this story out, how else do you do it? Either you wait five years for them to put on a dance, or you go out and ask them to recreate their experience.

1:44:11 WD-I disagree. I mean, I think you always pay people for services and they conceit that somehow a service rendered for money is not the authentic as an act of service, is in fact an anthropological and academic conceit. People pay for my services and my knowledge, we should pay them for their services and their knowledge. That's not the problem. It's not the fact that when we interview a professor in Timbuktu we should pay him for his time. Why shouldn't we pay him for his time? I think we were able to tell a wonderful story of the Ethnosphere throughout this entire journey. Both the metaphor of the salt trade, the understanding of the caravan and the culture that's wrapped around it. I think we were able to explore the manuscript libraries and repositories in Timbuktu in a wonderful way and reveal that body of knowledge. I thought that we were able to come into the Dogon country and in our encounters with the three brothers at the Falis has been a truly authentic experience for them and us in the sense that of course they knew there was going to be some business involved. Of course there was business. We were there for a purpose, they knew what the purpose was, but in that sense they knew what the purpose was. But in that sense the whole feel of it seemed very, very different to me. Whereas here, what we came into through the fault of no one, really, is a village, Tireli, where a major anthropologist, who's published a major book, obviously that photo book has sparked tremendous amount of attention from the tourism industry, and what we're seeing here is the absolute industrialization of the tourism industry. And I don't think there's anything wrong with traveling around the world, tourism, per se, but there's such a contrast for example between those two totally fresh and French young women who by chance stumbled upon our camp, and by chance stumbled upon our scene with the three brothers. I don't think there's one of us who felt disturbed by their arrival. They had walked from Songha, dirty and dusty and full of life, sparkling with excitement at their possibility to encounter the other, if you will. And I believe they brought something to that encounter that the brothers will be very grateful for. And I think that we did too. And I think they will take something away from that encounter which will be meaningful in their lives. What I see in the commodity market of tourism is a whole kind of strange culture of people who wear outfits that they would never wear in Paris. Who have kind of a docile nature.

AC-The tourists you mean?

WD-Ya, I mean we saw here in Tireli¿

1:47:10 AC-But what about the people here who have a culture, they've had everywhere we've gone they've said the harvest is terrible this year, these are bad times, it's really hard to make any money, they're canceling major rituals that they would normally do because they don't have enough food to support these functions. If they support themselves through displaying their culture¿

1:47:39 WD-I don't think there's anything wrong with that and the problem is once the performances become strictly for commerce, good harvest or bad harvest for generations the Dogon put on their sacred dances. Now maybe they had to delay them for a little bit, but they certainly didn't postpone them indefinitely. In other words, what drove them to do those dances was not a commercial imperative, but was a social and cultural imperative. My worry is that as the gesture of the dance becomes a commodity then it's completely subject to the culture of the market place. And if the tourists somehow turn their antenna, as the tourist market tends to do, when word gets out the Dogon is saturated with tourist. It's been ruined. It's been done. That whole kind of focal point of tourism will shift somewhere else. Maybe New Guinea, maybe the Amazon. I've met eco-tourists who will cite for you a litany of places where they've been, but if you ask them, in fact I asked a woman who was in the high arctic once when I was doing a report on eco-tourism, she gave me this litany of places she'd gone and she'd listed one place I'd gone. She'd been to Borneo and I asked her what she'd done there and had she enjoyed it. She suddenly was stumbled when I asked her what she had done there and she said to me, "I don't really remember, but it was all very interesting". But obviously not interesting enough to remember a damn thing about it.

AC-Chris?

1:49:23 CR-It's a very strange thing sort of coming to an experience like this because I've been coming to the Dogon for almost 8 years now. So to see the rapid onslaught of tourism is disturbing, yet as a photographer I feel the responsibility that I have is to¿let's stop.

AC-Okay

1:49:52 AC-I have to ask you the same question, though. If the Ethnosphere is about the preservation of culture, if this is providing income¿

1:50:02 WD-You didn't let me finish my answer.

AC-We don't have very much tape left, though so you've got to answer it.

WD-The point is that if it becomes a commodity and when the focal point of the industry shifts somewhere else and the people are not coming then will they still dance the sacred dances? And maybe there will be no economic rationale to do that. And that's the concern I have if it becomes a commodity.

1:50:45 WD-If you want a sum up of the Ethnosphere like you asked for upstairs we can do it if that's¿

1:50:53 AC-Well, from this experience will you do things differently in the next. It seems that you, in the Ethnosphere you've set yourself a goal of bringing cultural experiences to people, and not doing it going to somewhere for two years, studying a distant remote culture in the way an anthropologist would to make it known to the academic community. You want to make it known through popular culture. If you're going to make it known through popular culture don't you have to make these kinds of compromises?

1:51:40 WD-I don't know if I mean I think what we bumped into today was just a bit of bad luck. You're right, as we go along telling this in a journalistic way, telling the story of the Ethnosphere. There will be moments and this is a compromise. One of the wonderful things about this expedition, I think, is that we've been able to have both an authentic experience, I think we've been able to give to the people something of ourselves to the people who's lives we walk through, we've certainly taken something from their lives. I think we'll be able to tell a wonderful story of the Ethnosphere and I think we'll be able to work as a group in an extraordinary way, recognizing full well that it doesn't do much good for this mission for Chris and I simply to travel around the whole world together. The whole point is to give voice to these individuals and to these cultures and so yes to do that you have to be prepared to make some compromises. To get visual images sometimes you have to try to create situations of opportunity. And all we had today was sort of a situation of opportunity we tried to create that seemed a little disappointing, but I think any of these other points on this journey, and on other journeys we will be able to, in a very positive way, you know, establish relationships which allow us to bring people to a huge audience, like people at NPR and Geographic television can give us.

1:53:19 AC-I don't think you guys have done anything wrong or that you are encountering anything so terrible. Your just encountering the reality of what you're faced with. You're not being an anthropologist here.

1:53:36 WD-I don't think we should make more of this morning than what we're doing here. I think it would be a disservice to our entire trip to catch us in this moment of¿shock. The clash of culture is never pretty. And as we drop down to other cultures I'm sure we're going to have those moments that will be disturbing. If we weren't profoundly interested in these issues Chris and I wouldn't be drawn to the work that we do. I've had on this trip of ours, what 3 or 4 weeks now, wonderful moments of elation, but I've had two moments of discouragement and I'm happy to acknowledge my own sort of sensitivity to those kinds of moments. I've found it profoundly disappointing to move into Komonbonzo and see the interface between Islam and Dogon culture, which had basically in an evangelical way overwhelmed the traditional with a new wave of Islam. And I find coming in to Tireli today and seeing these streams of tourists coming into the village and the fact that we happened, and I think for a good reason, we had a journalistic comparative, we had a television crew with us, we needed to get visuals. There's nothing that we asked to Dogon that they aren't proud to do, aren't glad to do, it was an absolutely legitimate business transaction. It just was the nature of things, a snafu and the light was already a little too harsh and just as we were about to go, out of the blue a stream of French tourists and naturally the leader of the groups says, "Why can't we be here, we paid for this trip, you don't own this place". And you go "Ya, I know". I mean, who could have found that pleasant?

1:56:20 End

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