Enndé, where the Dogon and Tellem meet

Enndé (sometimes known as Endé) is a typical Dogon village, complete with mud houses, traditional granaries, a beautiful mosque and the traditional, male only, meeting place called Togu na. Forged over centuries, life here goes on to a tried-and-tested rhythm which seems timeless. On the surface nothing much happens, but a walk through the village brings you face-to-face with the ancient culture of the Dogon, still going strong in the 21st Century.

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Women and children pound millet, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Women and children pound millet, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Pounding millet, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Pounding millet, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Stroll the dusty streets and you’ll encounter women and children pounding millet, using only a giant pestle and mortar (and a lot of physical effort); goats and cattle roam around looking for food; women carry firewood on their heads to use for cooking; water is raised from the well; men weave cloth on hand looms; and people greet each other in the elongated and formulaic Dogon manner.

A man weaves on a hand loom, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

A man weaves on a hand loom, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Enndé is far removed from the the 21st Century of industrialised countries. There is no electricity, no running water, we didn’t spot a single motor vehicle and there are very few of the modern comforts we have come to expect, even in fairly remote parts of the world. Don’t even think about internet connectivity.

The Dogon Country is Mali’s main tourist selling point, and communities here are embracing tourism to varying degrees. This is leading to change at many levels within Dogon society, and may have a profound impact on undermining traditional community life. It wouldn’t be the first time that tourism destroys the thing that created it in the first instance. Although, if the toilet facilities where we stayed are an indicator of change, it may be some time before visitors can expect the five star treatment.

Toilet facilities, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Toilet facilities, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Woman carrying fire wood, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Woman carrying fire wood, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Traditional woven cloth, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Traditional woven cloth, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Traditional granary and cow, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Traditional granary and cow, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The Togu na offers a fascinating insight into Dogon culture. It is where the men of the village go to discuss matters of great importance, it is also a place for conflict resolution. If villagers are in conflict, they meet in the Togu na to discuss and resolve their issues. These open sided structures are built with deliberately low roofs forcing everyone to sit, and ruling out fights. Anyone leaping up in anger will only ever get a sore head, before being forced to sit down again. That seems like a system the British Parliament could usefully adopt.

Togu na, a traditional meeting place, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Togu na, a traditional meeting place, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Togu na, a traditional meeting place, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Togu na, a traditional meeting place, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Carved door, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Carved door, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Mosque, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Mosque, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

What makes Enndé special is it’s incredibly dramatic location underneath the Bandiagara plateau, the cliffs of which tower massively over the village. A walk up to the cliffs bring you closer to the ancient ruins of the Tellem civilisation. The Dogon have only lived in this region for around a eight hundred years; before they arrived the Tellem, a race of pigmies, populated this remote region. Ironically, the Dogon migrated to this region after being displaced by the advances of warlike Islamic tribes; it seems they in turn displaced the Tellem.

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

All that remains of the Tellem are the structures they left behind, both in the crevasses of the cliff face and at the base of the cliff. Some are houses, others food stores and many are burial sites. Given the technology available to them, the Tellem must have been excellent rock climbers. Enndé has a Hogon, a spiritual leader within the community. He still lives in one of the houses in the cliffs, but he’s pretty elusive and we didn’t get an opportunity to meet him.

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem and Dogon structures, Enndé, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Exploring Dogon Country, Djiguibombo to Enndé and the mysterious Tellem

If NASA is serious about sending humans to Mars, they could do worse than practice for it in the Dogon Country. It is an other-worldly landscape. The reddish soil and rocks are bleached by a ferocious sun, the occasional winds whip up dust devils and the Seno plain seems to extend to infinity.

If Dogon culture wasn’t alien enough, the landscape of this region could easily be the backdrop to a Hollywood movie about the Red Planet. Beautiful, yet so desolate that it is almost impossible to imagine how people have forged a society here and thrived for over a thousand years. Walking through this region under the vast, hulking Bandiagara plateau, makes for a journey into a world that belongs in the realms of Science Fiction.

A young girl in Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

A young girl in Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Drying chillies, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Drying chillies, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

We drove to the village of Djiguibombo and said goodbye to our dust-encrusted 4×4 and, for the next three days, headed east on foot to explore Dogon Country. We spent some time wandering around Djiguibombo, where we came across women and children smashing small onions with rocks in one of the compounds. The photos don’t do it justice, the smell of onion was tremendous. Hopefully, by the time humans reach Mars, a camera will have been invented that can also record smell. My eyes were watering.

A woman in Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

A woman in Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Crushing onions, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Crushing onions, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The house of a village elder, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The house of a village elder, Djiguibombo, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

By the time we arrived in the village of Teli, where we’d have lunch in the shade of a large tree, we’d started to spot unusual structures either high on the cliff face or at the base of the cliff. Over lunch, our guide, Ali, told us these were the only remaining evidence of the Tellem.

The Tellem were a distinctive people, which Dogon oral tradition recall as ‘small red people’, who inhabited this region before the Dogon arrived. It is thought they lived in the area until around the 14th century, and also that they were pigmies who possessed the power of flight. What is certain, is that they disappeared from history around the 15th century. Some suggest they were assimilated into the Dogon culture, others that they migrated to a more isolated region, others that they died out.

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem grain stores, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem grain stores, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Making use of what was already there, the Dogon continued to use Tellem structures – granaries and storehouses – and may even have incorporated Tellem traditions and rites into their own culture. The buildings are simple and profoundly moving symbols of a lost civilisation. Teli is one of the best paces to see these buildings.

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Tellem dwellings, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Our ultimate destination for the evening would be Enndé, another small village, famed for its beautiful woven cloth and a fabulous mosque, which nestles underneath the overhanging cliffs of the Bandiagara Plateau. In Enndé we stayed at a family home where we were promised traditional food (either they invented pasta in Enndé or someone wasn’t telling the whole truth), and spent the night sleeping on the roof of one of the buildings.

Weavings, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Weavings, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Painting cloth, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Painting cloth, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The village well, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The village well, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The village well, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

The village well, Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

As I sat on my rooftop and watched the sun set and the stars come out, a quite amazing thing happened. Outside every home in the area, people started to light wood fires and cook their evening food. The air filled with wood smoke and the smell of cooking, while the chattering of adults and the shouts and laughter of children rang around the village. It was an evening to remember.

A room with a view, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

A room with a view, Teli, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa

Night time fires in Ennde, Dogon Country, Mali, Africa