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Day 45: Tirelli

Tirelli, Mali 
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Baobab Avenue, Tirelli. The lower bark of the tree is stripped to provide fibre for rope, whilst the leaves are crushed to make a sauce to liven up the unvarying diet of millet.
Michael Palin - SaharaWith Amadou as my guide, we drive over the ridge and down through scattered trees to Tirelli, one of a string of villages set at intervals into the base of the cliff. At first it's hard to tell if there's a village there at all. In the morning shadow its sandy-grey stone buildings merge with the rock in perfect camouflage. The effect is clearly intended.

The houses that rise steeply up the cliff-side are skilfully integrated with the massive boulders around them. They are built of dry-stone walls, capped with a smooth, chamfered layer of the clay, rice husks and straw mix known as banco. Water spouts project from the corners. Among the houses are the eye-catching granaries, with banco walls and pointed, overlapping mops of thatch, like witches' hats. There are men's and women's granaries. The women's are divided into four compartments: north, east, south and west. A representation of the world. Each one contains a different food: peanuts, millet, beans, rice. But in the middle of all these is a small circular hole, the centre of the world, and it is here that the women keep their most valuable belongings, money, jewellery, precious stones, gold and silver. There are no such fripperies in the men's granaries, which are used purely as stores for the staple diet of millet.

We wind our way up to the village, which is crisscrossed by narrow tracks. There is no room for vehicles here, and the heaviest loads, in particular water from the well below, are carried up in calabash gourds on the women's heads.

Amadou leads. He's wearing a Dogon hat, white and pointed, with tassels (to keep the flies off when eating), and a cool, loose, white cotton jacket over a black T-shirt, a combination which occasionally makes him look like a mad vicar. Almost everything he tells me about the Dogon confirms that, though modern influences are creeping in, this ancient inbred way of life bears no relation to any of the other cultures and religions that have shaped this part of Africa. The Dogon world is a one-off.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 45
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Tirelli
  • Book page no: 140

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