Mali: Sahel Journey
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 8 - Niongono

  Click to enlargeThe Dogon people live throughout this area, all the way back to Djenne, but today we heading into the heart of Dogon country. The road is everything but paved. At times it is smooth packed clays but this is alternated with rocky, rutted, sandy, and gravel. While the route is relatively flat we passed rocky razor back ridges and in the distance there are various sizes and shapes of clay monoliths that added character and fun to the horizon. Because donkey carts use the route it is technically a double-track, but because one track is generally better than the other, it is more like single track riding as we wove between the trees, bushes and other objects.

Niongono on distant hiilIt is a little more difficult to figure out the dynamics of the economy and the culture here. There is a lot of planted land, generally with millet. But we only saw people occasionally and for miles and miles, until we were near our destination, there seemed to be no housing, or it was well hidden. The are well used donkey tracks heading off at regular intervals that are well enough used that they probably single the route to a village.

Are destination is Niongono. Our first stop was the school, which is in the flat lands, on the outskirts of the village.Niongono Primary School, Mali Niongono Primary School, Mali Niongono Primary School classroom, Mali Niongono Primary School classroom, Mali

From a distance Niongono looks like a castle perched on a small mountain. On closer inspection it is not a castle, but a village of individual houses snuggled on the slopes of the hill. Even if it is not a castle, it still has a medieval air to it. There is no running water or electricity, the buildings are made of stone and clay, any windows are small and all the transport is by foot or donkey. Throughout much of the Dogon country the villages have moved off the hills, that historically provided some protection, onto the flatlands, but most of the population of Niongono still lives on the hill. There are only a couple of approaches to the fortress so these carry a pretty constant stream of people hauling water, wood and farm produce from the flatlands up into the village.



Meeting with town cheif, NiongonoAs good manners dictates, one of our first activities was to visit and great the town chief. He is getting on in years, but when he was young he had traveled some but not outside of Africa. He had a variety of questions about the rest of the world and always his reference seemed to be, "How far is that from Mecca?" Among his treasures was a box filled with letters, photographs and memorabilia from past Western visitors.

After this visit we had the "key to the city" and could walk around unobstructed and unharassed, though we often had youthful shadows that studied our every move and our every gadget - it was only fair we were studying them. If the eyes became to much we could retreat to the courtyard of our host, which was shaded by a large tree and where the children were kept generally out of eyesight.

Very little about today's ride or being a resident of Niongono alludes to there being an industrial age someplace else on the planet. It is like Click to enlargestepping back in time a couple centuries. About the only person in the village that is literate in French is the schoolteacher. He didn't spend much time with us, but just sitting in the center of the village for a while or taking a slow stroll around was an eyeful and an education in itself. This is one of my favorite days.


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wear reaches Niongono



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