funeral festival
(sunday, may 9th)

about 10kms further down the dirt road, the village of Sougalodaga was in the middle of "celebrating" the death of an old man. This perhaps happened once or twice a year, and consisted of lots of beer drinking and the daily appearances of the masks -- for a dance of the spirits. Here we are early sunday morning on our way to the village.


Otherwise quiet, the village was busy with people who had come to see the masks. Around every corner there was a gathering of people drinking beer made of millet and just sitting, waiting. Then as the drums announced the arrivals of some of the masks into the village, people began to make their way to a large tree, under which the dances would take place.

It was really exciting to watch the masks arrive in the village. You could sense the excitement as adults and children dashed out of their homes and crowded at village corners to watch the masks pass.



As the masks arrived at the clearing, they took their place
by lying on the ground and peering around at the crowd.


These are the two griots who acted as master of ceremonies. One beat a drum constantly, setting a mesmerizing rythym for the whole afternoon, while the other tuned in with a small flute that shrieked out punctuation to the ritual.


There was also a band of djembe players in the crowd, about 5, who followed the pace of the griots -- beating out this irrestible energy that dominated the afternoon.


This is the chief of the village. We had gone to visit him earlier in the day to seek his permission to take photographs (which he had kindly assented to on the condition that I send two photos back). Of course he had pride of place among the crowd, a good stock of chewing tobacco, and a warning to everyone to keep their place and stay calm.


Finally, the dancing is ready to begin. The clearing under the great tree is now
packed with people eagerly waiting to watch the dance.


More and more masks have arrived and are seated on the ground around the great circle. Often they'll get up, swagger around the crowd a bit, perhaps flagellate one or two crowd members with their stringy costumes, or even pose for a photo.


Here's not such a good photo of the only toubab around. People made sure that I had a seat on the prime bench and moved anyone in front of me out of the way so that I could get the best photographs.

Building a site like this can tend to make you think through the camera -- as witness rather than participant. At times, I had to forget the camera and just allow myself to be mesmerized by the stamina, grace, and pure energy of the dance and the exhiliration of the crowd.