In Sangha, I reconnected with my Japanese former travelling companion, Hiro, who I had met in Tamanrasset and crossed the Sahara. We had last seen each other in Accra a week before. He was also there to see the great Dogon religious festival called Sigui.
The cliffs provide a defensible position and the Dogon still practice their religious beliefs as they have for centuries. Their houses are dramatic, hanging onto and built into the cliffs.
To get to the village we had to squeeze through a cleft one person wide to get to where the cliff houses had been built a thousand years before.
The local area chief had died one year before, so there was a 3-night festival honoring his and other ancestral spirits. Given the heat during the day, nighttime was a welcome time for festivals. Fires blazed and Dogon men danced to free the spirits of their dead ancestors.
We felt humbled attending… two interlopers from strange cultures.
The festival was unlike anything I had seen before. There were crowds of people around a dusty plaza-like area. It was just a dusty plain with undulating hard bare ground. A crowd was to one side with the musicians and dancers some 5 or more meters away from them.
The music of drums was nearly constant, hypnotic. Some dancers had massive wooden masks that they held with their mouths and arms. Shaking wildly from side to side and turning, seemingly engaging with or confronting other masked dancers. It went on for hours.
I was still too worn out from my earlier ordeal on the road to Sangha to be able to stay as long as Hiro and some of the other westerners who there to experience the festival. I felt like I was in a dream, masked dancers emerging, disappearing as another took his place. The drums kept pounding and pounding.
The experience of the dancing the night before was still vivid for me the following morning. Hiro and I then trekked back the Cliff Dweller in Bananin to bake in the sun and renew our negotiations for carvings.
This routine was repeated the next few days. Get up and recover from the night before, walk through the cleft to the cliff dwellers, and meet with the old man with the wood carvings. After our negotiation session, we would rest a bit, then hike back up through the cleft in the cliff to the village of Sangha. There was a little expat community where we could eat and rest…. Then another night of Dogon masked dancers. They were athletic. They had a strong sense of rhythm. They were amazing.