PEOPLES OF THE WORLD
Living Area: Mali and Burkina Fasso (Africa)
Population: 400.000 - 800.000
Language: Dogon (related to Mandé and Gur languages)
First european contact: Krause (1860s)
Comments: The Dogon people live in the region of the semi-arid Bandiagara plateau and sandstone cliffs, and in the Seno-Gondo plain. As soon as the 15th century, the Dogon already inhabited the Bandiagara cliffs region, although they had previously replaced an older population known as the Tellem (which lived there from the 11th century, and whose textile remains, such as burial blankets and clothing, are considered the oldest organic materials from archaeological contexts preserved in sub-Saharan Africa). Even an older population, named the Tolloy, is said to have previously lived in the area.
The Dogon live in rectangular mudbrick or stone/mud-covered buildings in small villages near the cultivated parcels and water supplies. They cultivate and recollect mainly millet, which they store in big grain stores. Onions, peppers, carrots, lettuce and cabbage are grown for sale at local markets. Domestic animals include goats, donkeys, some cattle, and chickens. Wild fruits and plants complement the diet and serve as traditional medicine. Hunting is not of economic importance, but brings prestige.
Several crafts are practiced by the Dogon. Weaving is typically a male craft. While women spin the cotton, it is the men who are responsible for weaving long bands of cloth. Pottery making is mainly a female craft. The blacksmiths make and repair agricultural tools, jewellery and other metal products. Also, they are responsible for woodwork, such as producing masks and statues. Leatherworkers fabricate bags, sheaths for knifes, saddles, and shoes among other items. In recent years blacksmiths as well as leatherworkers, have become more and more involved in the production and trade of souvenirs. The souvenir-trade has become an important source of income and employment in Mali. Many young Dogon earn their living as guides. In the villages, facilities for tourists have been created, providing a significant source of income for some.
Though much influenced by Islam, there are some christian villages and some other remain still practising their ancestral animist religion that worships creator god Amma.
Historically studied by french anthropologists, the great affluence of these among the dogon resulted in a well-known joke: "Do you know how many people live in a Dogon house? Five: the parents, two children and the french anthropologist".
Both men and women get circumcised during their childhood. Dogon myth explains the necessity to remove the female element (the prepuce) from a boy’s body to enable him to become a man. Similarly, the removal of the clitoris, thought to be the male element in girls, is considered necessary for them to become women. The excision of girls takes place within the villages, in contrast to circumcision ceremonies, that take place outside the village boundaries. Although circumcision is justified by Dogon myth and therefore appears long established, it is possible that this ritual has been adopted only in the more recent past under the influence of Islam and merged with local initiation rites.
Well-known by: their mask dances at the occasion o funerary festivals (such as the nyou yama, dama, or the Sigui). The Sigui is the most important ceremony of the Dogon. It takes place every 60 years and can take several years. The last one started in 1967 and ended in 1973, the next one will start in 2027. The Sigui ceremony symbolises the death of the first ancestor till the moment that humanity acquired the use of the spoken word. The Sigui is a long procession that starts and ends in the village of Youga Dogorou and goes from one village to the other during several months or years. All men wear masks and dance in long processions. The Sigui has a secret language, Sigui So, that women are not allowed to learn. Some men, called the Olubaru, form the secret society of Sigui that plays a central role in the ceremony. They prepare the ceremonies a long time in advance, and they live for three months hidden outside of the villages while nobody is allowed to see them. The villagers are afraid of them and fear is cultivated by a prohibition to go out at night, when sounds warn that the Olubaru are out. The most important mask that plays a major role in the Sigui rituals is the Great Mask or the Mother of Masks. It is several meters long and is just held up by hand and not used to hide a face. This mask is newly created every 60 years.
Some words in their language:
my name is ... : boy ma ...
au revoir: konè
Learn more about them at: Dogon article in Wikipedia