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Day 45: Tirelli

Michael Palin - SaharaAnd so on, and on. Once the list is completed the roles are reversed and the whole process starts again. It's a happy sound, with a style and bounce to it like good rap.

For the most important man in the Dogon cosmology, the blacksmith looks like any other short, harassed, middle-aged tradesman as he goes about his business in a low-roofed forge built up against the side of a great boulder, whose cracks and crevices provide shelf space for his tools. The fire is kept alive by his daughter, a girl of seven or eight, who sits at the fire busily working a pair of bellows made from goatskin and date-palm wood.

Apart from making things like clasps and locks for the granaries, the blacksmith makes knives for, and performs, male circumcision. His wife, and presumably one day the apprentice daughter who is working the bellows, performs the female circumcision. The explanation for this procedure in Dogon mythology is that Ama, who created the universe, made Earth to be his mate. Earth had male and female organs, characterised by ant hills and termite mounds. When Ama attempted congress with his beloved Earth, his entry was barred by the termite mound, which he had to remove before copulation could begin. So the termite mound represented the clitoris, and the world could not have been created until it was removed. Which is why, to this day, all the women in Tirelli will be, or have been, circumcised.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 45
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Tirelli
  • Book page no: 141

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