A Dogon Story

When I lived in Burkina Faso I wrote dozens of stories, most of which have never seen the light of day. Here is one of them. It’s set in Mali’s Dogon Cliffs, properly known as the Bandiagara Escarpment. I rather like it, except for the phrase ‘home they went to sup’ which sets my teeth on edge.

Atiko was a Dogon boy. He lived with his grumpy gran at the foot of the Dogon Cliffs. Like other Dogon boys, Atiko enjoyed eating onion soup, playing the tamtam drums and chatting to Galemba the Talking Snake. Unlike other Dogon boys, Atiko was scared of heights.

One day, Atiko’s gran said, ‘I’m going up to the cliff-top, Atiko, to visit my onion-patch. I want you to come with me.’
‘I can’t,’ said Atiko. ‘I’m scared of heights.’
Gran glowered. ‘Your father loved to climb,’ she said, ‘your aunts and uncles, too. We’re Dogons on the Dogon Cliffs and climbing’s what we do.’
‘It’s not what I do,’ said Atiko. ‘I’ll just stay down here and chat with Galemba The Talking Snake.’

Gran sighed and took her mittens off, took off her woolly socks. She spat on her hands, she spat on her feet, she clambered up the rocks.

‘How’s she doing, Galemba?’ whispered Atiko. ‘Is she nearly there?’
‘Not yet,’ said Galemba.

On tiptoes like a mountain goat, Gran trod a narrow ledge. She had no time for vertigo when visiting her veg.

‘How’s she doing, Galemba?’ whispered Atiko. ‘Is she nearly there?’
‘Not yet,’ said Galemba.

On tiptoes like a desert djinn, Gran crept along the ledge. She suddenly slipped on an onion skin and fell over the edge.

‘Atiko, help me! Help me! Help me! Atiko! Help me, Atiko!’

‘Gran over cliff,’ Galemba said. ‘Just listen to those wails! She’s clinging to the cliff face. She’s hanging by her nails.’
‘She’s going to fall off!’ cried Atiko. ‘Somebody, do something!’
‘Climb the cliff,’ Galemba said. ‘It’s time to be a man. Forget your fear and climb the cliff and save your grumpy gran.’
Atiko paled. ‘I’M SCARED OF HEIGHTS!’ he yelled.
‘Climb the cliff,’ Galemba said. ‘Don’t hesitate at all! Forget your fear and climb the cliff. Don’t let your granny fall!’

Atiko stood up. He wrapped Galemba round his neck.
‘Help me, Atiko!’ cried Gran.
Atiko kicked his flipflops off. He spat on his hands and feet.
‘Help me, Atiko!’ cried Gran.
Atiko scrambled up the cliff-face and along the narrow ledge. He arrived at the exact same spot where Gran had fallen off.
‘Don’t tread on the onion skin,’ Galemba warned.

Atiko didn’t tread on the onion skin. He knelt down and stretched his hand towards his dangling Gran.
‘Grab my hand,’ said Atiko.
‘I can’t reach it!’ wailed Gran.
Atiko lowered Galemba down towards his dangling gran. ‘Granny, grab Galemba’s neck!’
‘I can’t!’ wailed Gran. ‘I’M SCARED OF SNAKES!’
‘You’re JOKING!’ said Atiko.
‘I’m terrified of snakes,’ said Gran. ‘I fear their toothless grins. I fear their wicked, gleaming eyes and scabby, scaly skins.’

‘Grab me, Gran,’ Galemba said. ‘Forget my toothless grin. Forget your fear and grab my neck and let us haul you in.’

Granny grabbed the grinning snake. Her grandson hauled her up. He carried her down to the foot of the cliff and home they went to sup. From that day on, Atiko was never again scared of heights and Gran was never again scared of snakes. But Galemba the Talking Snake was so traumatized by the day’s events, he never spoke again.


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Stephen Davies

Children's author: picture books, chapter books and YA novels

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