‘The Tribal Eye: Behind the Mask’ – Documentary

Today we watched a fairly short documentary, in which, David Attenborough looks at the Dogon of Mali – from his 1975 tv series The Tribal Eye.

I’ve recently been finding myself less interested in tribal masks and more interested in either the extremely ancient, or the contemporary mask; however I still found that parts of this documentary stuck a chord with me.

At 18:10 Attenborough begins describing the blacksmith of the village, he states that he is, “…a direct descendant of an ancestor, who stole a piece of the sun from Heaven and brought it, a lump of glowing molten iron down the rainbow, to the Earth.”
The tribe sees the blacksmith as a magician, “The air in the bellows belongs to the living, iron comes from below the earth (the realm of the dead). By bringing the two together, the blacksmith, with his special magic forges a link between the worlds of men and spirits.”

I really enjoyed this statement and I feel like it’s one that can be adapted to many modern day jobs in order to make even the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Another point in the video that peaked my interest was at 26:52, where Attenborough describes a “Mask Society”. The idea that masks could be used as way to portray a hierarchy of people is particularly interesting to me, although the elitist and sexist way that the masks were governed put me off the idea. “The right to a particular kind of mask can only be given by a ‘Master of Masks’… Nor may anyone make any mask. Most masks and images can be made only by the blacksmith… so after a man has been given the permission to wear a mask, he must commission the blacksmith to make it.”


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