THE Bandiagara site is an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux with some beautiful architecture (houses, granaries, altars, sanctuaries and Togu Na, or communal meeting-places). Several age-old social traditions live on in the region (masks, feasts, rituals, and ceremonies involving ancestor worship). The geological, archaeological and ethnological interest, together with the landscape, make the Bandiagara plateau one of West Africa’s most impressive sites.
Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons)
The Bandiagara site is an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux with some beautiful architecture (houses, granaries, altars, sanctuaries and Togu Na, or communal meeting-places). Several age-old social traditions live on in the region (masks, feasts, rituals, and ceremonies involving ancestor worship). The geological, archaeological and ethnological interest, together with the landscape, make the Bandiagara plateau one of West Africa’s most impressive sites.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Cliff of Bandiagara, Land of the Dogons, is a vast cultural landscape covering 400,000 ha and includes 289 villages scattered between the three natural regions: sandstone plateau, escarpment, plains (more than two-thirds of the listed perimeter are covered by plateau and cliffs).
The communities at the site are essentially the Dogon, and have a very close relationship with their environment expressed in their sacred rituals and traditions.
The site of the Land of the Dogons is an impressive region of exceptional geological and environmental features. Human settlements in the region, since Palaeolithic times, have enabled the development and harmonious integration into the landscape of rich and dense tangible and intangible cultures, the best known of which are those of the Tellem, that are thought to live in the caves, and the Dogon.
This hostile milieu and difficult access has been, since the 15th century, a natural refuge that corresponded to the need for defence of the Dogons in the face of formidable invaders. Entrenched on the plateau and hanging to cliff faces, the Dogon were able to conserve their centuries-old culture and traditions, thanks to this defensive shelter. The architecture of the Dogon land has been adapted to benefit from the physical constraints of the place. Whether on the high plateau, the cliff-faces, or on the plain, the Dogon have exploited all the elements available to build their villages that reflect their ingenuity and their philosophy of life and death.
In certain cultural areas, the Dogon villages comprise numerous granaries, for the most part square with a thatched tapering roof. The gin’na, or large family house, is generally built on two levels. Its facade built from banco, is windowless but has a series of niches and doors, often decorated with sculptured motifs: rows of male and female characters which symbolize the couple’s successive generations.
One of the most characteristic forms of the Land of the Dogon is that of the togu-na, the large shelter, a long construction that provides shelter under a roof of branches supported by roughly-shaped wooden poles, for a platform with benches for the men.
The totemic sanctuaries (binu), privileged places, are of a great variety: some, in caves, keep alive the cult places of the Tellem; others, built of banco, resemble houses. The most venerated are the responsibility of the Hogon, the priest of one or several villages living alone, his source of inspiration being the snake, Lèbe, whose totem is often sculpted near the door of his dwelling.
The irruption of new « written religions » (Islam and Christianity) since at least the 18th century has contributed to the vulnerability of the heritage that today has suffered from the negative effects of globalization linked to the increasing development of cultural tourism and the phenomena of rural exodus, consequence of the drought of the last decades.
Criterion (v): The Land of the Dogon is the outstanding manifestation of a system of thinking linked to traditional religion that has integrated harmoniously with architectural heritage, very remarkably in a natural landscape of rocky scree and impressive geological features. The intrusion of new written religions (Islam and Christianity) since at least the 18th century has contributed towards the vulnerability of the heritage that today suffers from adverse effects of globalization.
Criterion (vii): The cliff and its rocky scree constitute a natural area of unique and exceptional beauty in West Africa. The diversity of geomorphological features (plateau, cliffs and plains) of the site are characterized by the presence of natural monuments (caves, secondary dunes and rock shelters) that bear witness to the continued influence of the different erosion phenomena. It is also in the natural environment that the endemic plant Acridocarpus monodii is found, its growth area being limited to the cliffs, and specific medicinal plants used by the Dogon therapists and healers. These plants suffer from gradual decline due to climate change (drought and desertification) and logging. The relationship of the Dogon people with their environment is also expressed in the sacred rituals associating spiritually the pale fox, the jackal and the crocodile.
Due to the socio-economic phenomena (exodus, scholarization, infrastructure development), human activities and the degradation of the environment (climate change causing droughts, desertification or also torrential rains; demographic pressure), the populations are leaving the villages located on the steep escarpments for the plain. Some intangible cultural practices undergo mutation linked to contact with other imported value systems (religions, cultural tourism…). The integrity of this very extensive property is, consequently, threatened as several sectors no longer contain all the attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value.
The social and cultural traditions of the Dogon are among the best preserved of sub-saharan Africa, despite certain important irreversible socio-economic mutations. The villages and their inhabitants are faithful to the ancestral values linked to an original life style. The harmonious integration of cultural elements (architecture) in the natural landscape remains authentic, outstanding and unique. Nevertheless, the traditional practices associated to the living quarters and the building constructions have become vulnerable, and in places the relationship between the material attributes and the Outstanding Universal Value are fragile.