Who Are The Dogon People?

Africa is a continent full of wonders. The many different people and cultures, from the Maasai of Kenya to the Himba of northern Namibia; from the Woodabe of west and northern Africa’s Sahel Region, to the Dogon People from Mali. Each of them have something peculiar and this diversity makes Africa a Continent of Choice. Of them all, however, the Dogon People beat all odds by their secretive artistic system, the famous dama dance and their well-preserved culture and religious belief system. 

The Dogon People are a small ethnic group in Mali with a population of about 1.8 million people, which is about 8.7% of Mali’s total population. 

This article digs deeper into the origin of the Dogon and where they currently live, their language and religion, their valuables and also what sets them apart as a unique populace under the sun.

Where Do The Dogon People Come From?

Like any other ethnic group in Africa, the Dogon people, overtime, migrated from their original places of habitation and went in search of security, water and land for a better settlement and a peaceful existence. 

History places the first Dogon settlement to be in the far southwest of the Kani-Na escarpment. Others are related to have originated from Mande, southwest of Bandiagara escarpment, near Bamako

Ethno-archaeological and archaeological studies prove the existence of Dogon around these areas, revealing provable settlement, social practices and technological advancements of the Dogon people.

Where Do The Dogon People Live?

The Dogon live on the foot of the Bandiagara escarpment in Mali’s central plateau region south of the Niger Bend, West Africa. There are some who also live in Burkina Faso. 

The Dogon, though initially lived on Bandiagara escarpment, retreated from areas ruled by Islam in protest against the religion. They sought security on the lower parts of the escarpment, settling on the central plateau of Mali. Their population has been growing from between 400,000 and 800,000 to slightly below 2 million.

What Language Do The Dogon People Speak?

One of the cultural aspects the Dogon have successfully preserved is their language. They have refused to be colonized by other languages and they avoid using them in any case or even learning them. 

Specifically, Dogul and Donno So are the languages of the Dogon people. However, there are traces of the French language among some individuals. 

In common, they are said to speak the ‘Dogon Languages”, which is a family of closely-related languages the Dogon of Mali use. They are said to be tonal languages,  with the Dogul having two tones and the Donno So having three. Though they do not have a written form of the languages, they use the Subject-Object-Verb as the basic sentence structure. These people would interpret and explain their existence using dance, artwork, songs and stories. 

What Is Important To The Dogon People?

The uncorrupted culture of the Dogon, their unmatched sculpturing skills and their unfading dama dance remain important among them. These aspects feature their beliefs on deity and the spiritual world, nature, calendar, mathematical calculations and general way of life, usually recorded through symbols and artistic expressions. 

The dama ceremony is one of the most important events among the Dogon. It is meant to help the newly dead people to seamlessly transition into the spiritual world of the dead and it lasts for a couple of days. 

Dama is a blend of mind-blowing dance expeditions mimicking people and their attributes, animals and spirits. Though it is dependable on the status of the diseases to the society, over a hundred young men in their beautiful regalia and masks are likely to take part in the public dance.

Dogon Religious Beliefs

Though living without electricity and a written language system, the Dogon are still religiously inclined. Currently, about 35% of the Dogon lean towards Islam while about 10% practice Christianity. 

The larger population of the Dogon are animists, meaning they believe in a deep correlation between spiritual gods and the ancestors with the living world of animals, humans and plants. 

These religious beliefs are passed from one generation to the other through oral transmission. This refreshes them on the memories of the younger generations.

Dogon Mythology

Apart from associating the genderless Amma/Amen, the Dogon god, with having created an empty Earth with an egg for future life, the Dogon myth of creation adds sense to that association. 

It brings the principle of twin births, highly celebrated by the Dogon, in the universe. The myth opines that Amma had his/her first intercourse attempt with Earth, but was unsuccessful, producing a single creature- Jackal. 

The Dogon people view this as a confusion of the Order of the Universe, associating the jackal with disorder and the difficulties Amma has since faced. Later, Amma’s seed overpowered the difficulties, fertilized Earth and produced Nommo, the divine twins. That is why the Dogon celebrate twins and view single births as a misfortune.

What Is Unique About The Dogon People?

The Dogon are also famed for their artistic designs of wood carvings and their culture which has remained intact centuries on. 

The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculptures, and their architecture. 

Though kept as secrets, these systems speak of the Dogon culture and beliefs, social organizations and their way of life in general. It is their mode of expression, especially due to the fact that they lack a written form of communication.

Dogon Way Of Life

Up to today, the Dogon people exist without using electricity or indoor plumbing systems. They are instructed by ancient yet lively cultural norms and wisely-determined gender roles. They like artistry, which they use to explain and record their religious values, freedom and ideals.

Though you may think their sculptures speak to the public, they are hidden from outsiders and are privately stored in families and sanctuaries, speaking to the Dogon people only. This is because they generally do not like exposing their culture through the symbolic meanings engraved in their sculptures and also the processes followed while doing the artistic work should remain a secret. 

The Dogon population is organized and led by a paternal kinship system,  with each large family or village being headed by a male elder. The oldest living member of the ancestral family becomes the chief elder. With the Dogon culture and artistic work drawing significant tourist numbers into Mali, their way of life is slowly getting infiltrated by other cultures, preferences, beliefs and social associations.

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