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Sahara

Day 45: Tirelli

Tirelli, Mali 
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As Tirelli is built high on the rocks, everything has to be carried up from the valley below. Usually by the women.
Michael Palin - SaharaOn the way back through the village we come across the hunter, another important figure in Dogon tradition. He's a slight, nervous man with a fur hat and a flintlock rifle, which may look quaint but is an important status symbol for the Dogon. I ask what there is to hunt in this hot, stony landscape. He talks of wild rats and monkeys, and produces a shrunken monkey head to prove it. The flintlock looks so ancient that I can't see it being a serious threat to life. We run the camera expectantly, but the first time the hunter fills his rifle with powder and demonstrates, nothing happens. He refills, fires again. Another click. Amadou and others offer advice, and the third time he virtually empties an entire goat-horn full of saltpetre into the breech.

This time there is a loud report. Ignited powder flies out of the side of the gun and I feel a series of sharp stings across my face. The hunter looks exultant. Amadou and the headman rush up to me. There are specks of blood across my forehead, some only millimetres away from my eyes, and sharp stabs in my forehead.

A happy side of the whole experience is that the hunter and I become firm friends. I accuse him of trying to kill me and make elaborate hiding movements whenever I see him. Whenever he sees me, he dissolves into helpless laughter.

By midday we surrender to the ferocious heat burning off the rocks and take a break on the terrace that acts as the village's reception area. Beneath a palm-thatch roof is a table, benches, a couple of hammocks and an array of carved artefacts. There are single figures, women with prominent eyes, long stylised faces and breasts projecting forward like rockets, and doors and panels with the ancestors kneeling in long rows, interwoven with lizards, tortoises and the most important creature in Dogon tradition, the serpent, credited with leading the Dogon people to the escarpment.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 45
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Tirelli
  • Book page no: 142

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