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The Dogon

The Dogon (8.7% population) live in the West African country of Mali. In writing this story I am inspired by the stories of the Dogon Issa Guindo. His stories were written by the Dutch and published in book form in 2005. I did not visit the Dogon myself, but the stories of the Malian colleagues about the Dogon fascinated me enormously.

The Dogon village used to have one boubou, a robe that you put on when you travel. So only one person could travel at a time at a time. If you needed clothes, you had to go to the market of Mopti, 120 km away. Food was limited, only millet was grown. In 1929 the French arrived, and other nations in their footsteps. Money came in, more and more luxuries came and old traditions gradually disappeared. Until colonial times, the Dogon were completely independent. The hogan, the supreme authority in all areas, and the council of the elders ruled the village.

The Dogon can empathize with the flora and fauna. The Dogon lived in the wilderness for a long time, and at one point they got terribly thirsty. The young people were sent to look for water. Then a crocodile appeared and hit a baobab tree with its tail until it burst open. The Dogon were saved from thirst and the crocodile has been a sacred animal ever since. When a crocodile dies, it is buried with the same ceremonies as a human. Other sacred animals: the panther, the fox, the snake, the turtle and the antelope.

'Throwing a piece of wood into the river doesn't automatically turn it into a crocodile'

Most of the Dogon are farmers. In addition to millet, they grow beans, potatoes and peanuts. We also find blacksmiths, leather workers and weavers. Griots are people who make leather musical instruments. The griot fulfills the role of announcer and announces messages in the village. The griots are also the ones who keep the oral tradition and also act as an arbitrator in disputes.

The villages are built against steep cliffs. These houses have a flat roof, on which millet is dried. In addition to the houses, the yard consists of storage sheds and animal shelters.

Dogon religion is a form of animism. Animists believe that a soul or spirit resides not only in people and animals, but also in plants and natural phenomena. The Dogon believe that natural objects have supernatural powers. Contact with the gods can be made with the help of a fetish. Fetishes are sacred objects that house the power of an ama, a minor deity, and to which sacrifices can be dedicated.

In the Dogon, a fetish is made of wood, stone, iron or bronze, often covered with clay. The fetish of the Nomo is depicted as a small statue with a long face, a long straight nose and beautiful eyes and ears.

The Dogon know 3 gods: Ama, the sky god, Lèwè the earth god and Nomo, the water god. There are many things in daily life for which the Dogon do not ask for favor from Ama, but want to know if Ama agrees. For this they use oracles, the answers are always simple yes or no. Throwing cowrie shells is a popular aid here.

The sacrifice of goats, sheep, chickens to protect the home, neighborhood, clan, and death rites are at the heart of the Dogon religion. The deceased are buried in one of the caves in the mountain wall. The actual funeral takes place once a year or every few years, sometimes well after death.

The Dogon are one of the most famous peoples in Africa because of their authentic art and culture. Their masks are famous and very popular with art collectors, museums and tourists. Masks are worn during various ceremonies, rituals and funerals, which are also exchanged as gifts. Masked dances are central during the rituals. The masks for this are made in the month before the ritual by the young men of the village. Different types of masks are worn with it. In total, about 70 to 100 different species are known.

Dogon mask

The Antelope

Once upon a time there was a Dogon who was highly regarded in his village Kan Bonzon and who wanted to be the first to install hogon. But before the installation could take place, he needed an antelope's horn, Ama had told him. He went out, but was soon spotted by a village warrior. Afraid of this man's magical power, the warrior decided to chase and kill him. The man found the antelope and when it was sleeping, he cut off one of its horns. The antelope woke up, but instead of getting angry, he gave the man a seed, a pebble and a little water. With this he could shake off his pursuer.

When the warrior threatened to get too close, the man threw the seed on the ground and a whole forest grew between him and the pursuer at once. However, the warrior did not give up and made his way through the forest. When he was back on his heels, the man threw the pebble to the ground and suddenly they were on different sides of a rock face. But even now the pursuer did not give up, and when he got close again, the man threw the water on the ground. from this arose a vast lake between them.

Now the warrior was defeated. He couldn't get across the lake fast enough, so the man managed to get home safely with the antelope's horn. By these actions he had proved his strength to the man and was chosen as the first hogon, also for the pursuer. He did not like him, but he had to acknowledge the evidence of his strength. Ever since, the Dogon in the vicinity of Kan Bonzon have worshiped the antelope as a sacred animal.

From the book: The Everyday Life of the Dogon by Issa Guindo p. 82

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