While in Mali, travelling with a friend and without the bike, we spent three days walking along the Bandiagara escarpment in Dogon country.
It really is best to go with a guide. Mamadou, our guide, was a wealth of information and without him, much of what we saw would have been interesting but fairly meaningless. Especially the Dama, a masquerade that essentially leads the souls of the departed to their final resting places through a series of ritual dances and rites. This event, held annually, honors the elders that have died since the last Dama.
The Dama we saw was in the village of Djiguibombo, which has 735 inhabitants from 3 different sects. The procession led down into the surrounding fields where a sacrifice (chicken) was made after which they return and continue a dance in the centre of the village. During the ceremony there is plenty of millet beer consumed!
The masks worn all have significance. For example, the Kanaga mask, a kind of double cross, signifies where sky and earth meet (the lower L-shaped ends point to earth and the upper ones to heaven). The Sirige mask, the tall slender one, is a smaller version of that held at the Sigi festival, which is held only once every sixty years (next one 2027). It is said to embody nyama, the life-force of Lebe, the first ancestor to die, reincarnated as a snake, and signifies the collective life-force of nature and the ancestors. The Saku masks embody the dangers of the bush in contrast to human society, and generally ran around the village using their long sticks to beat back villagers who were encroaching on the dance area. These masks were traditionally made of torn bark, but the ones we saw looked more like dyed wool.
If you are interested, you can see more photos taken in Dogon country on my blog:
Dogon Country, Mali