Cliff Villages of Bandiagara – The Land of the Dogons

Related Articles

Related Articles

The cliffs of Bandiagara is a large geological escarpment rising above the surrounding flatlands in Mali that contains various archaeological sites and 289 ancient settlements.

The cliffs were first settled by the Toloy, an ancient troglodyte culture between the 3rd and 2nd century BC. The Toloy established settlements in the rock face by utilising natural rock shelters to construct circular coiled clay buildings that ran from the cave floor to the ceiling.

The main Toloy site is located at Toloy cave, a 43-metre-long rock shelter that contains around 30 coiled clay buildings used as granaries, that were later converted into tombs.

Toloy Settlement : Image Credit : Geri

In the 11th century AD, the cliffs were settled by the Tellem, a Sub Saharan group that built many of the existing dwellings and structures around the base of the escarpment as well as directly into the cliff-face. In contrast to the Toloy, the Tellem built their structures from mud bricks, but also built a honeycomb of adobe granaries using rich ochre-colour mud from termite mounds.

With the arrival of the Dogon in the region, the Tellem were either displaced or intermingled with the Dogon population, although there’s various hypotheses that speculate their disappearance. “Tellem” is actually from the Dogon language and means loosely, “those who were before us” or “We found them”.

Subscribe to more articles like this by following our Google Discovery feed - Click the follow button on your desktop or the star button on mobile. Subscribe

Tellum Settlement – Image Credit : Martha de Jong-Lantink

Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area in consequence of the Dogon people’s collective refusal to convert to Islam. They utilised the defensible positions of the escarpments and reused many of the Tellem granaries for food storage and burials.

The cliffs and rocky terrain provided excellent protection from slave raiders coming from the desert, but they also isolated communities that resulted in at least 32 local dialects; many of which are now mutually incomprehensible.

Among the Dogon, several oral traditions record their origins with one relating to their coming from Mande in the Cercle of Kati in the Koulikoro Region of south-western Mali. This oral tradition believes that the Dogon first settled in the extreme southwest of the escarpment at Kani-Na where the village of Kani Bonzon is located.

Dogon Village – Image Credit : TREEAID

Dogon villages usually contain 44 dwellings, centred around the ‘ginna’, or head man’s house and contain a Tógu nà (a building only for men), a Punulu (a house for menstruating women on the village border), and a male and female granary for storage.

The Dogon still exists today as a distinct ethnic group around Bandiagara and at the foot of the rock shelters, with a population of between 400,000 to 800,000 natives that practices their unique cultural and religious traditions.

Header Image – Tellum Structures – Image Credit : Ferdinand Reus

- Advertisement -

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Takht-e Soleymān – The Throne of Solomon

Takht-e Soleymān is an archaeological site located near the modern-day town of Takab in the West Azerbaijan Province of Iran.

New UD study shows that tropical forest loss is increased by large-scale land acquisitions

In recent years, there has been a rise in foreign and domestic large-scale land acquisitions--defined as being at least roughly one square mile--in Latin America, Asia, and Africa where investing countries and multinational investors take out long-term contracts to use the land for various enterprises.

New research reveals how water in the deep Earth triggers earthquakes and tsunamis

In a new study, published in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists provide the first conclusive evidence directly linking deep Earth’s water cycle and its expressions with magmatic productivity and earthquake activity.

Discovering an exoplanet the size of Neptune

An exoplanet the size of Neptune has been discovered around the young star AU Microscopii, thanks in part to the work of Jonathan Gagné, a former iREx Banting postdoctoral researcher who is now a scientific advisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium.

A Blue Spark to Shine on the Origin of the Universe

Why is our Universe made of matter? Why does everything exist as we know it? These questions are linked to one of the most important unsolved problems in particle physics.

Trimontium (Newstead) – The Roman Fort

Trimontium is Roman fort complex located in Newstead on the Scottish Borders.

Volcanic Eruption Caused Social and Political Unrest Leading to Rise of Roman Empire

The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 BC triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic leading to the rise of the Roman Empire.

Diets of Bronze-Age People in Southern Poland was Largely Vegetable Based

New study suggests that ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age people living in the southern parts of modern-day Poland survived mainly on a vegetable-based diet.

New Interactive Map Reveals the Lost Continent of Zealandia

A new mapping interface by the GNS Science’s Te Riu-a-Māui / Zealandia research programme (TRAMZ) reveals the geology of Aotearoa New Zealand and the lost continent of Zealandia.

Werwolf – The Classified Wehrmacht Bunker

Führerhauptquartier Werwolf was the codename for a bunker complex built during WW2 as a military headquarters for Adolf Hitler and his generals to monitor the eastern front.

Popular stories