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Sahara

Day 45: Tirelli

Tirelli, Mali 
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The Dogon village of Tirelli, almost camouflaged, huddles against the escarpment. Up in the rock face to the left are the cave dwellings of the Tellem, previous occupiers of these cliffs.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe Sahara is officially said to begin north of latitude 16. The Pays de Dogon (it sounds so much better in French) is around 14 degrees north, but the cool night, which had me scrambling into my sleeping bag around 4 am, and the sand that has already found its way into the most private parts of me and my luggage, take me right back to our days in Western Sahara. As if the insidious sand isn't enough, there is the added refinement of krim-krim, thorny burrs camouflaged in sand, which attach themselves to skin and clothing like fishhooks. Those of us who have already used the bushes as our bathroom have been particularly affected, and in quite sensitive places too.

There are bonuses of course, one of which is the spectacular sight of the escarpment wall, rising about a mile to the west of the camp, its long straight brow glowing red and gold in the early sunlight.

Little is known about the first people to inhabit the 125-mile escarpment other than that they were little and were called the Tellem. They fled to safety here 1000 years ago. They were planters and crop growers and no match for the Dogon hunters, originally believed to have come from the Nile Valley, who took over their land 400 years later, in their turn fleeing, this time from the spread of Islam.

The Tellem built houses in and amongst the caves halfway up the cliff wall, some of which can still be seen. The Dogon use them as burial grounds, often hauling bodies up on the end of ropes.

I learn all this from Amadou, an urbane English-speaking Dogon, who lives in Bandiagara. There is no shortage of esoteric information about the Dogon. In fact, there is a joke that runs 'how many people are there in a Dogon family?', the answer to which is five. Two parents, two children and one French anthropologist.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 45
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Tirelli
  • Book page no: 139

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