The Dance of Masks of the Dogon People of Bandiagara, Mali
The Dogon are an ethnic group indigenous to the central plateau region of Mali, in West Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, an area known as Dogon Country, and in Burkina Faso. The population is commonly estimated to be about 250,000. They speak the Dogon languages, which are considered to constitute an independent branch of the Niger–Congo language family, meaning that they are not closely related to any other languages.
The Dogon are known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculpture, and their extraordinary architecture. They are also famous for their annual fish festival generally held in mid-March : Dogon people living in other countries quite often make the pilgrimage back to their homeland to participate in this spectacular festival. Since the twentieth century, there have been significant changes in the social organisation, material culture and beliefs of the Dogon, in part because Dogon country is one of Mali's major tourist attractions. Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area approximately a thousand years ago because the people collectively refused to convert to Islam and retreated to relatively easy to defend locations, while distancing themselves from areas controlled by Muslims.
Dogon insecurity in the face of these historical pressures caused them to locate their villages in defensible positions along the walls of the escarpment. The other factor influencing their choice of settlement location was access to water. The Niger River is nearby and in the sandstone rock, a rivulet runs at the foot of the cliff at the lowest point of the area during the wet season. We have been very lucky to visit and spend quite a lot of time with the Dogon People in order to make numerous documentaries : we have been there 6 different times since 1996, each time spending many weeks with them. We have naturally established a long term personal relationship of mutual trust and respect with the Dogon of many villages, a relationship that we cherish and are very proud of.