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Home > Tribes of Africa > Dogon Tribe
 

Dogon Tribe

DOGON - MALI

Historical Backgoround: Myth and History
The events that shaped the Dogon to the present day people have been held in their memories, a people who have never used writing as a vehicle of thought.  These memories are distorted by the mythical imagination by which their culture is engrossed.
 
" Lower- Ogol, like all Dogon villages, was a group of tiered houses and granaries, earthern terraces alternating with thatched huts.  Walking through the small, narrow streets, alternately shot with sunlight or sunk low in shadow, in between the truncated pyramids, the prism shaped, cubic or cylindrical huts and granaries, the rectangular doorways.....one felt like a dwarf lost in some kind of a maze.  Everywhere one looked, the earth was cracked from the rains and heat." - Marcel Griaule, ethnologist, who had many trips between 1931 & 1946.

The precise origins of the Dogon people, like those of most other peoples, are lost in the mists of time.  But their history, beginning at the period when they migrated into the region of the Bandiagara cliffs, has been handed down through oral traditions.

Legend has it that a snake led them to the cliff at the southern end of the plateau, were they overwhelmed and unsurped the local Tellem and Niongom populations.  Their myths, legends, and traditions retain the momory ot their predecessors.  The leading part is assigined to small red men whom the Dogon call Andoumboulu, probably the ancestors of present-day Pygmies.  The Andoumboulo were driven out of certain areas by men of normal size, the Tellem, probably the ancestors of the Kurumba of northern Yatenga province.  When the Tellem in turn were driven from the cliff by the Dogon, they left behind, in sancturies located on the rocky and almost inaccessible heights, cult and funerary objects that included statuettes.  In some places, as soon as fighting ended, alliances were established between the Dogon and the older inhabitants, and marriages tightened the bonds. In some viages the two populations coexisted peacefully.
The Dogon clain their descent from four families (Arou, Ono, Dyon and Domno) who supposedly populated their present area after fleeing their native region.  In the course of their migrations, these families were allegedly attacked by the Mossi and fled northward.  This migration has been dated to being in the reign of Kankan Moussa (1307-1332), ruler of the ancient Mali empire.
 
The Dogon livlihood is based on agriculture concentrated in the fields at the edge of the cliff, where water is scarce but enough for occasional irrigation.

The religious beliefs of the Dogon are complex and knowledge of them varies greatly in degree within Dogon society, it is based primarily on the worship of ancestors and the spirits encountered as they migrated to the Bandiagara cliffs.   Knowledge of this type is passe don not only informally, but also within the matrix of the initiation process into adult life. Dogon art symbolizes both through nuance and candor differnet aspect of this body of religious belief. Cults of the Dogon include the Awa, Lebe and Binu. The  Awa are the cult of the deceased whose purpose is to reorder the spiritual forces disturbed by the Nommo, the mytological ancestor of the Dogon. The Lebe (earth god) cult is focused with the agricultrural cycle and its chief priest is called a Hogon. there is a  Lebe shine in every village, incorporating bits of earth into the altar to encourage continued fertility of the land. According to the beliefs of the DOgon, the god Lebe, visits the Hogons on a nightly basis as a serpent, licking their bodies to purify them and infuse them with life force.

The Binu  is a totemic practice, having complax associations the the sacred places the Dogon use for ancestral worship, communication with spirits and sacrifices for agriculture. The Dogon believe in a supreme creative force, Amma, who inhibits the skies and created the universe.  The Dogon spirituality strongly surrounds the Nommo, the first living being created by Amma, who soon multiplied to become four sets twins. One twin, rebelling against Amma, destabalized the universe, and in order to purify the cosmos and bringit back to order, Amma sacrificed another Nommo, cuting up th ebody and scattering it through the universe. Symbolically, Binu shines are proliferated to resemble the scattering of the Nommo body.

Amma had sex with the earth again and this time twins were born known as Nommo. One male and one female.  The twins went up to heaven and were given instructions by their father, Amma. After this they looked down on the earth, their mother, and seeing she was naked came down and dressed her in a fabulous skirt. - (for more information see Dogon Cliff Dwellers - Pascal James Imperato.)

To reconstruct a history of Dogon African art is difficult, but not impossible, and is a necessary part of reconstruction the history of these people.
 
Dogon Arks - The Iconographic representation of the horse in these arks testifies to the significance of the horse being the fist being to exit the ark in the creation myth.

Dogon Masks - THere are aproxiamtely seventy-eight differnt types of masks among the Dogon. Masks are belong to the Awa society, the society of masks. In general a mask is the individual property of the society memberwho sculpts it or has it sculpted for him. For the Dogon, masks are a material supportfor the spiritual forces liberated by death. In traditional Dogon society, masked dances are performed during funeral ceremonies and durind special death anniversary ceremonies known as Dama. The latter are held every two or three years by a village or group of villages to honor several people who have diedsince the last Dama.

Dogon Stools - Stools consisting of two round discs connected by a central cylindrical column and supported by caryatids. These catyatids are either four single figures or four couples with raised arms and differentiated breasts, and are representative of the nommo, or primordial ancestors/ancestor families of the Dogon. The stool discs represent the earth and the sky, held together by the Nommo. Dogon stools like this were typically only used by the Hogons and showed the ir respected place within the community.
 
Dyougou Serou Figures - the god Amma created the earth from a lump of clay.  The body of the earth was feminine; its sexual organ was an anthill and its clitoris a termite hill.  The lonely creator approached the earth, desiring sexual intercourse, but the earth was unwilling; the termite hillrose up in resistance; revealing its masculinity.  Amma cut it down and then had sex withthe excised earth. Because the latter was an unwilling partner, this was a breach in the order of the universe.  The offspring of this union was Dyougou Serou, who, having no wife, commited incest with his mother.  As a result of this incestuous act, Dyougou Serou was endowed with the gift of the first word, the earliest, most primitive language.  To recify the impurity caused by Dyougou Serou's misdeed, Amma decided to create human beings directly, without further union with the earth.  Dyougou Serou is shown hiding his face in his hands in shame for his misdeed.
 
Primordial Couple Statues - The couple is the Dogon Primordial couple, born before the four other nommo couples, thus being representative of the supreme authority of Dogon lineage.

Reference:

Art and Craft in Africa - Laure Meyer. ISBN:2-87939-098-2

Dogon Cliff Dwellers - Pascal James Imperato

Tribal Art of Africa - Jaques-Baptiste Bacquart. ISBN:0-500-28231-5


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