Mali 1987

Me? I just sit here on the mantelpiece like the piece of wood that I am, while the bearded stranger tells the guests at his home the story about how special I am.

Malevolent, that’s what he calls me. And I’d like to call him that for bringing me all the way here from the Malian capital Bamako. (Thankfully I brought some nice Malian woodworm to keep me company!).

I can repeat his story word for word now. It starts when he is walking along the bottom of the Bandiagara cliff admiring the work of the Dogon tribe who live there. Not just their marvellous granaries and carved doors but also all those remarkable stone carved tombs stuck up high on the cliff in places which can only be reached by rope and pulley. They’re supposed to be old pygmy villages.

 

So, as he walks in one village he is told not to go near a holy place because the last stranger to do so had to buy a whole sheep to placate the Hogan. This is when, in his story, he points to me: I’m a Hogan, you see.  But the one in the village is finely-carved, five foot high and much better dressed than me. But its similar: same face and beard, crossed hands, knees up to the chin.

Locals give money to the guy who looks after the Hogan (he is also called a Hogan) who will pray, cover the wooden Hogan in feathers, chickenshit etc and make all wishes come true. The Dogon are animists you see.

Anyway, in the next village he meets another Hogan – wooden, smaller, shabbier: me! He gives money to take me home to London so I can cure his cows, and help his neighbour die without children so their fields will be his. I can’t possibly do things like that. Doesn’t he realise I’m a fake from a workshop in Bamako, one of hundreds?