National Geographic : 1966 Aug
had already left. Naturally, I missed that week's plane. Experiences like these-they quickly become a com mon denominator of every visitor's stay in West Africa can be deceptive. Here, more easily perhaps than any where else on earth, one can be misled by the poverty and squalor, the shoddiness and the ineptitude-I've heard it called "arrogant incompetence"-into missing the very real riches of these amazing lands. The Republic of Mali was a case in point. Pride and poverty mark this vast chunk of Africa. A stubborn determination to go it alone sets Mali apart from the other newly independent nations that border the southern Sahara (see the supplement map). Like coastal Guinea, Mali looks for aid as often to the Com munist world as to the Western democracies. Czechoslo vakians crew the Ilyushin 14's that ply most of Mali's internal air routes, and Russian crews take up the Ilyu shin 18 prop-jets that link the capital, Bamako, with Dakar. Soviet geologists in Russian-made jeeps prowl restlessly in a search for oil and minerals, and dour agri cultural experts from the Chinese People's Republic in troduce new crops to Bambara farmers. Funeral Ceremony Without a Death Mali's made-in-China attitude toward journalists near ly led me to cut short my stay. I would need a permit to use my cameras. Always carry it, I was told; it will be checked often. And it was-by ordinary citizens in small towns and remote villages; by children, who solemnly in formed me that taking their picture was against the loi; by policemen who scooped up both permit and passport and returned them hours later. At first glance there seemed painfully little to photo graph. Drab Bamako's streets contrasted poorly with cities I had already seen. Shops displayed shelves almost bare. Frustrated and unhappy, I thought briefly of mov ing on. I'm glad I didn't. For one thing, I would have missed attending my own funeral. In Mali's remote Dogon country, far to the northeast of Bamako, ancestral Africa survives in as pure a form as anywhere else on this vast continent. Hidden away atop heat-baked plateaus and at the feet of forbidding escarp ments, Dogon villagers cling doggedly to the customs and beliefs of no one knows how many generations ago. I came to Sanga, largest of the Dogon villages, hoping that I might see a funeral. In their ceremonies for the dead, the Dogon combine the arts of sculpture and dance, African Venice, the village of Ganvie perches on stilts in lagoon-laced southern Dahomey. Brush weirs loop across the channel at center. Housewives smoke the catch in earthen ovens built on bamboo floors, then ferry the fish to buyers ashore. Though a midget among nations, Ohio-size Da homey boasts more than twice the area of its sovereign neighbor, once-German Togo. KODACHROMEBY JOHN SCOFIELD© N.G.S.