The 400,000 Dogon live 180 miles south of Timbuktu on the cliffs of Bandiagara, which dominate the plains for over 150 miles. They speak approximately 120 dialects, many of which are not mutually comprehensible. At first hunters, now on their small fields they cultivate millet, sorghum, wheat, and onion. The millet is stored in high quadrangular granaries around which they build their houses. Because of the difficult approach to these regions and the aridity of the climate, the Dogon have been isolated and hence were able to conserve their ancient religious habits and ways of making the necessary implements, their carvings.

Historical Background

There is little certain knowledge of the history of the Dogon country. The historical events are retained in the memory of a people who have never used writing to capture. Their mythical imagination, by which they are engrossed surely distorts the factual history. Although we cannot trace a plausible historical framework for the Dogon country; we do have certain general guidelines. The Dogons realize they are not the first inhabitants of the country they now occupy. Their myths, legends and traditions retain the memory of their predecessors.According to their myths and legends, there were 'small red men', know by the Dogon as Andoumboulu (possibly ancestors of the present day Pygmies),who were driven out of certain areas by normal sized men, the Tellem (probably ancestors of the Kurumba). Later, when the Doyon drove the Tellem from the cliffs, they left behind, in sanctuaries on the cliffs, cult and funerary objects and statuettes.
Once tensions settled down and weapons were laid down, it is believed that in some areas the invading Dogon and the Tellem established piece and alliances were established between the two and marriages tightened the bonds. The two populations proceeded to coexist peacefully in villages.
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A 'konbalabala' or door lock from the Dogon people of Mali.
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Dogon Nommo Figure from Mali.