- Posted August 11, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
African culture: Street art
Circumcision Wall Paintings
In the villages, the buildings are primarily constructed of adobe and with the exception of the village mosque, pretty small structures. There are no building walls to paint on but as I found out, that does not deter Malians from expressing themselves in a public space. In the case of the Dogon villagers living in Songo (also spelled Songho), their "canvas" is a large cliff face. The images in this iReport are of the circumcision wall in Songo; street art, Dogon village style!
Every three years, the boys in Songo as well as those from the surrounding countryside come an area near this wall to be circumcised. The boys are usually around 8-12 in age. They will remember this event for the rest of their lives. To commemorate the occasion, their proud families trek up the hillside to this wall and paint images that reflect the moment for them.
My guide, Tall and I followed a village elder named Usman up to the cliff ledge to see these images. When I got to the top, I just gasped at the sight before me – a massive rock wall covered with images painted in black, white and red pigment. At first glance, it looked like the paintings were rendered with chalk but If I remember correctly, the white pigment is made from bird feces; I can’t remember what the other two are derived from. Because the pigments are natural, the paintings are fragile to the elements but the villagers picked a good spot – the wall is situated under a rocky overhang that provides some shelter.
I found the circumcision wall images to be whimsical yet very bold in design and color. I fell in love with this wall! I was particularly fascinated by the images that looked like two story homes which is unusual because those sorts of structures do not exist in a Dogon village like Songo. Every three years, the wall is selectively repainted – certain parts touched up while other sections left to fade and every now again, someone adds a new image. Usman tried to explain some of the images to me but many have no meaning to anyone other than the family who painted it.
Of course, neither I nor their proud families are the ones getting snipped so a pretty painting is good enough for us. For the boys, they get a much bigger reward. According to Usman, the first boy to volunteer to get circumcised gets a small herd of animals, the second boy a small field of millet and the third boy gets a virgin girl. As Tall and I trekked down from the cliff ledge, I couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful wall I had just left behind and I still talk about it!