"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We all wear masks

From Mali and the desert

A Dogon mask from my trip to Mali. Susan says the profile looks like me. Hmph. Hold the wise cracks.

The Dogon are a tribe known for their mythology, mask ceremonies, architecture, and sculpture. They also refused to convert to Islam centuries ago, and had to retreat to isolated areas. These included cliff dwellings much like the Anasazi of the American southwest At first glance at their ruins you'd think you were looking at a the stone ruins of Canyon de Chelly or Mesa Verde in Arizona and Colorado. Today they inhabit villages in south central Mali, south of the Niger...still remote, still independent.

These people are one of the reasons I felt at home in Mali...independent people who resisted so-called "progress." The American Indians also resisted a religious invasion, and would have lost, but they adapted Catholicism to their native religions and survived, Their native religions are the strongest and most mysterious still, as are the Dogon's animism. The other reason I felt at home there was the rock and adobe of dwellings of the desert., and at least two foreign languages. you know you are a visitor, and you stand out to all the native peoples.

This wooden mask used in religious activities says all of this to me. Don't call these people primitive. It reminds me of how many masks and costumes  Americans wear religiously every day--makeup, suit and ties, cowboy hats and boots, obscenely big cars or obscenely expensive ones, houses, club memberships, sports logos, designer clothes, high heels, shorts, low cut blouses, hair styling and coloring, decals on cars, the churches we attend--even the churches have costumes.

As to whether the profile matches mine...well, the nose, the protruding lips. Oh, and the hair! 

Joking aside, when you put this mask over your face, you can smell the wood and the desert and the otherworldly beliefs and mysteries that transcend our recent and material so-called "civilization."


  1. Terry,

    I've touched on the subject of wearing masks today also -- the one I posted as well as the one that is still in the 'draft' stage, that may take several days to deliver.

    Strange that we should hit on this same topic from two different points.


  2. Janell,

    Interesting indeed. Thanks,