An Extra-Terrestrial Amidst the Dogon
As a child of the 1970s, I was fascinated by the nascent exploration of space. I spent a good part of my teenage years in bookshops searching for books that explained the American and Soviet space-programs or had amazing colour photos of the Apollo missions. The new frontier seemed to be replete with new and unimaginable possibilities. It was also at this time that most of the theories of extra-terrestrial life were explored as never before in the history of humanity. The whole spirit of the age was contained in the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched by NASA in 1972, which included the first aluminum plaque with information about the Earth and humanity addressed to any alien civilization that may have found it. The universe seemed to be a mysterious and magical place once again, and it was ready to be revealed to those who spent time exploring it.
So, when I was not mesmerized watching the black and white moon landings of the Apollo missions shown on TV, or movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind shown in cinemas, I was immersed in books about mysteries, the supernatural, and advanced lost civilizations. I grew up reading the non-fiction bestsellers of the day, such as Erich von Däniken’s In Search of Ancient Gods and Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery, which supposedly proved that advanced extra-terrestrial astronauts visited the earth in ancient times. In particular, Temple’s theory was that these visitors landed amidst the Dogon tribe in Mali sometime in the third millennium BCE and planted the seeds of science and technology that would later be disseminated and transformed into the Egyptian civilization.
All these theories kept me busy thinking and investigating throughout my adolescence. Däniken’s, Temple’s, and other similar books were crucial during those formative years. They made me investigate ideas on my own, and forced me to think out of the box. Not to mention the hundreds of heated conversations I had with friends and adults, trying to convince them with rational arguments and “scientific evidence” that, unlike them, I knew the most important secrets of the world’s past!
Although the theses and arguments of these writers have long since been disproved by many scientists and researchers, the lure of their ideas is still alive. I still feel a romantic longing for all those theories and the unique zeitgeist of the 70s and 80s. It was another world back then.
Well, being an incorrigible Doubting Thomas about everything, including all the debunking of scientists, I wanted to personally investigate Temple’s theory up close. So when I was traveling around Africa I included a “small expedition” to the Dogon tribes in Mali for a few days. Would the Dogon be different from other African tribes still living in the preindustrial age? Would I see in the Dogons’ eyes the spark of a Klingon, a Romulan or a Vulcan?* I was determined to find out for myself.
Piloting our motorbikes from Bandiagara to the heartland of the Dogon country, we made a pit stop in Ogousogou, a remote village that rarely sees any visitors. As is usually the case in such isolated places, I became an instant star and had kids following me everywhere. Suddenly, I realized that being a white man, wearing strange shorts and a huge motorbike helmet, I really looked like … an ancient astronaut from another solar system re-visiting the Dogon! Spontaneously, I decided to start behaving weirdly amid the surprised kids, augmenting their enthusiasm and awe. I started dancing, and the mesmerized little Earthians soon joined in by singing and clapping. Jane started capturing the monumental encounter on film.
All my teenage sci-fi reading, my decades-long search for mysteries, lost civilizations, and more, seemed to converge on this one impromptu moment.
Without realizing it at the time, I finally became the extra-terrestrial I was searching for!
PS: A few days later, while traveling from village to village among the Dogon, I was bitten by a very special Earthian mosquito who had found a rare delicacy in my exotic blood. Soon after, I was carried through the rock canyons and bushes to a hospital in the nearest town, Bandiagara. There, I would sweat profusely, ache, moan, and vomit while trying to recover from malaria. Instead of seeing the spark of extra-terrestrials in the Dogon eyes, I ended up seeing the huge eyes of my African doctor, who worked ancient space-age miracles to heal me.
* Reference to the corresponding fictional alien civilizations in my beloved TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation that was aired in the late 1980s.