Dogon Country is the name used for a region of south-central Mali renowned for its secluded villages embedded on cliffs that are up to 500m tall which were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, in Western Africa, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region.
This area is composed of three distinct topographical regions: the plain, the cliffs, and the plateau. These sandstone cliffs run from southwest to northeast, roughly parallel to the Niger River, and attain heights up to 600 meters (2000 feet).
There are roughly 400,000 Dogon people living along the cliffs and plateaus. The Dogon people have been living in this area for more than a thousand years following their refusal to forcefully convert to Islam. This then led to the development of their own religion, culture, and language.
The people call themselves Dogon or Dogom, but in the older literature they are most often called Habe, a Fulbe word meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘pagan.’ Today, a significant minority of the Dogon practice Islam. Another minority practice Christianity. Each Dogon community, or enlarged family, is headed by one male elder. This chief head is the oldest living son of the ancestor of the local branch of the family.
History of Dogon Country
Dogon area is bisected by the Bandiagara Escarpment which is a sandstone cliff of up to 500 m (1,640 ft) high. To the southeast of the cliff, the sandy Séno-Gondo Plains are found, and northwest of the cliff are the Bandiagara Highlands. Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area in consequence of the Dogon people’s collective refusal to convert to Islam a thousand years ago.
The other factor influencing their choice of settlement location is 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.
Over time, the Dogon moved north along the escarpment, arriving in the Sanga region in the 15th century. It is often difficult to distinguish between pre-Muslim practices and later practices, though Islamic law classified them and many other ethnicities of the region. As the growth of cities increased, the demand for slaves across the region of West Africa also increased. The historical pattern has included the murder of indigenous males by Islamic raiders and enslavement of women and children.