Bandiagara Festival

We did visit the Monday market in Djenne. Large, but not too frenetic. As for many small towns, the market is the only place or time to buy many items as the town isn’t large enough or rich enough to support full time stores.

We dallied too long and ended up at the taxi/bus station nearly two hours late. Another hour to fill the approx 20 passenger bus. Then wait for the pasengers who had wandered off. A few miles out of town, we had to wait for the ferry crossing. Traffic backed up and then a queue fight which was quite a show with vehicles getting pushed back off the ferry and several fender benders. Arrived about 7 pm in Sevare, the trainsfer point to Bandiagara. Way too late for shared taxe. Since hotels are nearly all full and we had a reservation we bit the bullet and got a private taxi.  

But the trip was worth it as the festival was fantastic. This was the second annual. Tourism is developing well enough that towns are competing for tourists and realize that the festivals are a good attraction. Also good for the community (more on this later). We weren’t encouraged by the location–“behind the bus station.”  But the area was fenced off with some booths and about 40 chairs set up under a tent. We arrived at 3 the advertised start. We grabbed a front row seat and listened the a warm up kora player singer. There was a published schedule for the five-day affair. The same each day with different sponsors–mostly themed for the community–AIDS, women’s groups etc. They had the booths and were apparently marketing to tourists and locals.

Then a traditional dance of mostly women. We had seen essentially the same dance and people the night before at our hotel. Except by now the locals had been let in (we paid and they probably got in free) and were cheering on some of the dancers and joining in themselves. Most heart warming was a crippled guy who was one of the organizes was dancing and encouraged by the locals.

The third act was a dance of warriors. About 20 guys with muzzle loading rifles which they shot off occasionally. They acted out hunt and fighting scenes. Much better than I can describe.

Then the tour de force. The dogon masked dancers. An old apparently dying tradition, particulary in a large more commercial town like Bandiagara. About 15 men in costume and large masques. And three on stilts representing cranes. We were sitting next to two elders. People from the audience came to pay their respects and the dancers freqently bowed in front of them, so we had great seats. A grand dance–again my words fail–either |Louisa will enhance or you’ll have to wait for photos.

The festival was good on many levels. Great entertainment and insight into some of the culture; and apparently helping keep allive the traditions for the locals. The kids in particular loved it–hundreds were crowded around. And also a venue to promote community programs.

The guide books implied we would see more of this as we visited the villages–we didn’t–so the festival was great and was our Dogon Christmas. At our hotel, no recognition of Christmas. Some of the hotels are tuned in and have special dinners. 

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