National Geographic : 2001 Jun
HOLY GROUND Tracingout a prayer, traditionalhealer Hamey Cisse conse crates dirtfrom the floor of the Great Mosque so that it can be worn in an amulet. "The clay ofDjenne is blessed because there are benedictions in the earth," he ex plains. Though raised in Koranic schools (below), Djenne's people continue to honor pre-Islamic beliefs-thatthe land is sacredand a source of supernaturalpower. long-horned animals. Moctar's nine-year-old brother, waving a stick half his height, shoved and swatted his family's cows. Then he and Moc tar's father tethered each one to a stake for milking. For a time the only sounds were of bellowing and milk streaming into calabashes. Watching and listening, I thought how little had changed-it could have been a hundred years ago in Djenne, or a thousand. Many fear that what I experienced is about to disappear. Returning to my hotel one day, I saw a crowd outside the House of the People. A hun dred men sat in ranks on the ground. Others perched on windowsills or leaned against doorways. A reporter from the new local radio station held out a tape recorder to capture the proceedings inside-a series of speeches, each enthusiastically applauded. "They have come from Bamako to report on the dam at Talo" said Moctar Ciss. "Everyone is against it." Djenne's representatives were telling constituents about their fight to stop a proposed 8.5-million-dollar dam, approved over their objections in 1998. The deputies swore they would not let the project go ahead. After the meeting I sought out Bagouro Noumansana, a retired agronomist and rural development expert, who is leading the opposi tion to the dam. "If they cut off the water, what can we do?" he said. "If the population cannot grow rice, cannot fish, cannot herd, they are going to go elsewhere to eat. Talo will be the death of Djenne."