Built among boulders in the dry and arid Dogon county in Mali, at the foot of an incredible 500 meter high escarpment, lies a small village called Bamba. Everything here is parched as the dry season reaches its peak, leaving only one sacred pond full of catfish. Every year, an ancient fishing ritual called Antogo is carried out in the lake – a spectacle that is worth seeing. Fishing in the lake is strictly prohibited throughout the year, but the day Antogo is celebrated, hundreds of men jump into the lake grabbing fishes with their bare hands. The frenzy lasts for only about 15 minutes. The intensity of the moment is extreme, huge, and overwhelming.
In the past, Bamba was covered with lush green forests and the lake, the water of which was considered sacred and populated by good spirits, offered tons of fish to the villagers. But as time passed, the climate changed and the region transformed itself from a green zone into an arid, dry, infertile, rocky area. The small lake remained the last vestige of an once fertile land.
On the day of Antogo hundreds of Dogon come from all parts of the country to Bamba’s lake, a pond the size of an Olympic swimming pool. They crowd around the lake – kids, young and old men – armed with cone-shaped fishing baskets and other hand made tools to catch the fish. Women are not allowed to participate in the ritual as they are considered impure owing to their menstrual cycle. The rest get busy preparing for the celebration, braiding their hair and pounding millet for the big feast.
All of a sudden 400 bare-chested men jump wildly into the lake grabbing whatever they can. About 15 minutes later a gunshot marks the end of the ritual. All fish captured are put into a leather bag and given to the oldest man of Bamba, who will ensure proper distribution among all villages.