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Unique Dogon Culture Survives in West Africa

By Chris Rainier

Hidden in the mysterious Bandiagara Cliffs of southern Mali, West Africa, live a people who claim to be the conduit between heaven and Earth: the people of the Dogon.

The Dogon have survived for centuries, withstanding constant slave raiding parties of the successive empires of Ghana, the Sonrai, the Mossi, the Sao, the Fulani, and the Muslims from the north. Consequently, the Dogon have evolved a keen sense of cultural preservation and an ability to withstand outside forces of change.

Today, some 300,000 Dogon live along a roughly 125-mile-long (200-kilometer) swath of land against the Badiagara Cliffs. Many live among 700 or so small villages with populations of less than 500.

I recently traveled into the region in my capacity as National Geographic Cultures Initiative photographer. I was joined by my friend and colleague Wade Davis, an author, anthropologist, botanical explorer, and National Geographic Society Explorer-in Residence; a film crew from National Geographic Today; and journalists from National Public Radio.

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