chapter  1
18 Pages

Living in a Landscape of Scarcity: A Materiality Approach

Grounded in an ethnography of a Dogon village of the Bandiagara escarpment, this book explores the Dogon people’s ways of living in a landscape of scarcity. The village of Tiréli (Figure 1.1) is located in the tɔrɔ sɔ area (for pronunciation guidelines see the transcription notes, p. 15) of the Dogon region, southwest of the Niger River bend, in Mali (West Africa). By taking a critical look at long-lived Western idealised views about the Dogon as a mythical, harmonious, and isolated people (Ciarcia 2003; Doquet 1999, 287) and by breaking away from the popular yet widely questioned Dogon cosmogony exposed by Griaule, I examine the ‘micro’cosmology of the Dogon of Tiréli. I describe the ways in which people make themselves at home in a twentyfirst-century world through processes of dwelling and building (Heidegger 1971 in Ingold 2000, 172-88) in a landscape of scarcity. From the perspective of the Dogon’s daily collective embodied practices or taskscapes as ‘an array of related activities’ in the socially constructed landscape (Ingold 2000, 195), I investigate Dogon villagers’ experiences of their harsh Sahelian environment and the strategies they have developed over time in order to cope with its vicissitudes. By bringing local perceptions of their landscape into a broader materiality argument, I examine the Dogon’s structures and meanings system about their microcosmology of scarcity in the light of their material practices about various forms of containers. These containers range from the landscape that is symbolically bound through earth shrines to the bound village and its enclosed architectonic, which is held by the scree and includes the compounds and granaries, to the cooking pot, a bowl of food, and finally the body.