Bandiagara escarpment dwellings

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Bandiagara escarpment dwellings

It is not known what kind of houses the Dogon lived in before, in the 14th century the drove out the Tellem from their homes on the Bandiagara escarpment, but the stone and clay Tellem houses served as the pattern for their subsequent constructions. The place was inhabited even prior to the Tellem, and two thousand year old tombs are still visible high up in the cliffs today. Unlike the previous inhabitants, the Dogon invaders built their closely packed villages at the foot of the cliffs. As well as homes and granaries they also built public buildings such as temples, mosques, blacksmith’s shops, mills, the residences of the village chief (the hogons), ritual buildings for menstruating women (punulu) and the famous men’s lodge (toguna) where affairs of common interest were discussed.

The dwellings are closely guarded private property, and strangers are not admitted beyond the entrance hall. The family eats and sleeps in a central living area, with only a few small storerooms and a circular kitchen opening off it, through which there is access to the roof terrace, which is used for various purposes. The houses are not all built to a standard pattern, however, as the number of rooms grows with the number of wives a man takes. The situation is further complicated by the fact that adolescents do not stay at home, boys typically moving out to a new house and girls moving in with a widowed relative. The boys male relative’s help them to make adobe bricks out of mud, straw and dung, to build walls, to make a slab out of forked wooden posts and beams, and to plaster the exterior of the completed house with a mixture of twigs, baobab bark and sludge.

Growing old is not held in high esteem by the Dogon: men who are no longer capable of reproduction are sent out into the entrance porch to guard the house.