A sandstone ridge that rises some 500 meters above the parched sands of southern Mali, the 150-kilometer-long Bandiagara Escarpment has served as a cultural crossroads for more than 2,000 years.
Considered one of West Africa’s most impressive sites, and inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1989, the escarpment was first settled in the 3rd century B.C. By the 11th century AD, the Tellem, a Sub-Saharan pygmy group, took up residence in the lower caves that dot this extraordinary geological formation. Today their rock-cut dwellings are used as sacred ancestor shrines and burial caves by the Dogon ethnic group, who came in the 15th century. With their tight-knit social structure, the Dogon have been able to maintain their rich traditional way of life that includes an elaborate cosmology and many animistic practices.
Encroachment of the modern world is taking its toll on both Dogon culture and the escarpment itself in the form of inappropriate development. The Cultural Mission of Bandiagara, a governmental agency, has worked tirelessly to preserve the area, but does not have the resources to create a comprehensive management plan for the region.