Photos The Toguna house, decorated with relief images of masked dancers, is a meeting place for male elders.Rising from the savanna to a height of 600 feet, the Bandiagara escarpment forms a colossal wall of sandstone for 120 miles. Situated along a ninety-mile stretch of cliffs are some two hundred villages. The Dogon people came to this region in the 15th century, driving their predecessors, the Tellem, from their dwellings in the cliffs. For the Dogon, the cliffs were a natural refuge from the attacks of warring enemies on the plains.The Dogon thatched, clay granary is used for storing grain, usually millet, the staple of the Dogon diet. The granary doors, which protect the window-like openings, are often adorned with carvings of animals and ancestors which serve as invocations of spirirts or as symbols of status. This granary is an example of a simpler style.The most important and revered member of Dogon society is the Hogon. Both chief and high priest of his village, he officiates over all religious ceremonies. During funerals the Hogon acts on behalf of the ancestors. Being the oldest member of the village, and almost an ancestor himself, he delegates most of his ritual work to a village priest. At right; the Hogon climbs a traditional ladder carved from a tree trunk to reach the roof of his cliff-built-house and survey his domain.The Toguna house is the meeting place for male elders. In this house, heavily thatched for coolness, men discuss community issues and rest during the hot hours of the day. The forked structural supports are carved with figures of ancestors who guard and protect the Toguna.At the foot of the cliffs, the pallbearers prepare to raise the body to its final resting place in a cave amid the wind-eroded sandstone seams. Having removed the outer shroud but leaving the inner one to cover the corpse , the pallbearers tie the body to the end of a baobab fiber rope that has been lowered down by attendents from the burial cave. The body is then hoisted to its final resting place.When the corpse reaches the top, it is pushed through a small opening on the rock face into the burial cave, to be laid out among the bones of its ancestors. The last shroud is removed, and a bowl of oil is left at the feet of the deceased to ease weariness from his journey to the afterworld.The burial cave floor is strewn with bones of the dead that have accumulated over the centuries.The Hogan’s Clan House protects and guards the world of Dogon ancestors. Home of the ancestors who founded the village clan, the Clan House is the focal point of ritual activity for the Dama Ceremony and the center of personal religious worship in the village. Built into a large cave and surrounded by granaries, its facade is covered with the skins and skulls of hunted game in addition to countless sacrificed animals, many of which have been offered during the six-week period before the Dama begins.Within the Clan House are statues carved by the blacksmith in a stylized fashion to resemble the Hogon. The Dogon believe that the use of statuary is one of the most effective means of petitioning the ancestral world, since “One cannot always pray and kneel at the altar, but the statue can.” At right, the Hogon offers a libation of chicken blood on the main altar outside the Clan House to appease the ancestors and purify the village for the upcoming Dama ceremony.The front wall of the Hogon’s Clan House is encrusted with skulls of animals hunted by the men of the high priest’s clan. The Dogon believe that any successful hunt is the result of powerful magic, as the animals of the bush are deemed wiser and more powerful than men.Details of the front wall of the Hogon’s Clan House which is covered with offerings of the skulls of animals hunted by men of the Hogon’s clan. Alongside, the beaks and feet of marabou storks and the eggs of ostriches are set into the mud of the walls. Countless sacrificial offerings are made during the six week period before the Dama begins.In preparation for the Dama ceremony, young Dogon men seclude themselves in caves on the escarpment to make the many types of masks representing both animal and human forms of life. The carving process is highly secret and must be hidden from women and children, who are threatened with severe punishment should they even glimpse the artisans at work. The natural paint colors used on the masks are black, made from boiled fruits of the Dano tree; red from crushed Bana rock; white from powdered cattle bones; and yellow from local clay. Some believe that these four colors symbolize water, fire, air and earth.Five days of masked dancing mark the climax of the Dama. As the maskers wind their way down the narrow footpaths of the escarpment , they create an otherworldly spectacle for the crowds in the villages below. The Sirige is the largest of the masks and requires the most expert of dancers. The mask is entirely held in place by the dancer gripping a wooden bar in his teeth, the weight of the mask being completely born by the jaw.The Satimbe mask, depicting a large-breasted female with bent arms lashed at the elbows honors the primordial woman. According to legend, she discovered the original masks, which were later taken from her by the men of the village. Since that time masking has been considered an exclusively male activity. Mimiking the gait of the antelope, a Walu mask leaps about, chasing children away from the path of the maskers. It is trailed by an Adyagai mask, representing a stinging insect with large eyes. Dogon animal masks are regarded as beings of the bush, representing the world outside the village perimeter, beyond the control of man.The Sirige is the most impressive of all Dogon masks, standing at some fifteen feet high and drawing its name from the multistoried house of the Hogon. It serves as a symbolic link between the mortal and spirirtual worlds. The maskers face is concealed in a distinctive rectangular box, as the tall wooden panel, painted with geometric designs, teeters majestically over the ritual proceedings.Dancing forcefully, a group of Kananga masks enters the village to drive out the disembodied spirits of the dead. The agile dancers rotate their upper bodies from their hips in order to swing the masks in wide circles. They imitate Amma, the creator god, who brought all beings to life by opening the door in his chest. Dancing with trembling arms outstretched, the Kanaga dancers spread the life force evenly through the cosmos.At left; with their chests expanded, the buffalo masks charge forward in a dramatic stampede, kicking up dust as they go. For the Dogon, all the creatures of the bush are givers of plenty, and from them stems knowledge, power and fertility. At right; wearing costumes fashioned from hibiscus fibres and cowrie shell, and with coconut shells as breasts, dancers on stilts rest before performing. Their teetering dance and flapping arms imitate a long-legged water bird, but it is also mischeviously said that their antics mimic their neighbors, the tall pointy-breasted Fulani women.The role of the masks, in the once every twelve year Dama Ceremony, is to appease the dead and show them the living for the last time. In this way the masks ease the spirits of the deceased out of the village and initiate them into the realm of the ancestors.As the Dama ceremony comes to a close, the spirits of the dead are successfully initiated into their roles as ancestors. Over the coming generations, they will act as the spectral guardians of their clan, protecting their living descendents from harm and maintaining the natural balance within Dogon society.