Africa Guide

Dogon People


The Dogon are a cliff-dwelling people who live in Southeastern Mali and Burkina Faso. Among the people groups in Africa they are unique in that they have kept and continued to develop their own culture even in the midst of Islamic invasions which have conquered and adapted many of the current people groups

Until the 1930's the Dogon were very insolated from the outside world and resisted any foreign influence. Through oral tradition it is said that they originated from the west bank of the Niger River, around 1490 A.D. they were fleeing from the Mossi people and entered the Bandiagara cliffs region. There they have lived ever since. Because of their refuge in the cliffs they were able to resist the Muslims, the French, and others who have attempted to conquer them.

The Dogon are divided into family groups which are responsible for different spheres of Dogon life. The Awa society is responsible for much of the spiritual functions of Dogon culture concerning death and mourning periods, they are communicate with the ancestor spirits. The Lebe are the group responsible for the agricultural spirits. They build many different alters out of clay and dirt.

In their artwork they are well-known for their masks which are used in various ceremonies and rituals. The masks are known as "inima," they are thought to contain the life force which is known as "nyama." There are over 65 different kinds of masks used for ceremonies. Their woodwork is amazing and is known for the different, "primitive" look which has disappeared from much African pieces. The Dogon use mainly red, black, and white colors as well as many varieties of browns developed from the reddish sand like dirt which surrounds the country. Dogon artwork is all intricately hand carved and much of it has much cultural significance.

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