Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dogon Tribe of Africa

             The Dogon are mysterious group of people who live in Southeastern Mali and Burkina Faso, West Africa. Among the people groups in Africa they are unique for their mythology, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture.

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.

Because of their refuge in the cliffs they were able to resist the Muslims, the French, and others who have attempted to conquer them. However such resistance helped them well preserved their own beliefs and religious practices for ages.
Dogon Village and society

Dogon Village and Society
Dogon villages, usually in groups are concentrated around water holes and referred to as "cantons" or regions. Within these regions the Dogon population of about 300,000 – 800,000 is disseminated among 700 Dogon villages, most with fewer than 500 inhabitants each. The basic residential unit is the conjugal family household, usually composed of a polygynous family group.  

Each enlarged family(about 100 members), is headed by one male elder. The lineage head, gina bana, is the oldest living male descendant of the common ancestor of the lineage. The primary responsibility of the gina bana is to conduct ceremonies.Gina bana, occupies a larger-than-ordinary house (also called ginna). The localized patrilineage (ginna) owns houses and agricultural fields, has its own altars and ceremonialism, and its own burial place.

The architecture of the Dogon villages is stunning. Most of their houses belongs against mountain and build with wooden frame or brick and mud. 
All villages have at least one 'Togu na' at the center of the village, a building only for men. They rest here much of the day throughout the heat of the dry season, discuss affairs and take important decisions. Dogon villages also have different buildings, such as; Male granary - storage place for pearl millet and other grains; Female granary- storage place for a woman's personal belongings men has no access here. There are also House for menstruating women. Women having their period are considered to be unclean and have to leave their family house to live during five days in this house.

The Dogon are primarily agriculturalists, their principal crops being millet, sorghum, rice, onions, beans, tobacco, and sorrel. They are also arboriculturalists. The Dogon keep herds of goats and sheep along with some cows and poultry. Hunting contributes little to the diet since game in the area is scarce. Fishing is done once a year as a collective venture.

Social Classification
The Dogon have a system of social stratification similar to numerous other societies of the West African Sudan. The distinctive feature is a hierarchical series of occupational caste or status groups consisting of workers in iron, wood, and leather, as well as the griots. The griots function as lineage genealogists, musicians, and poets and are evidently believed to be sorcerers as well. Caste members live apart from the agriculturalists in either a special quarter reserved for them, or outside of the village, or in villages of their own.

The religion is built around a belief in the supreme creator Amma the supreme creator god, the master of life and death, a benevolent albeit impersonal being who prevails over all, sees all, and knows all. He is responsible for the creation of three other subordinate beings, the the Nommo, the "son of Amma," generally considered a water spirit; Lebe, the incarnation of the earth and its fertilizing properties; and Yurugu, the mythical representative of fallen man. The Dogon also believe in various malevolent and benevolent spirits who populate the bush, trees, and uninhabited places.

Dogon Cults 
There are some principal cults among the Dogon Society disseminated with specific role of conduct. A major part of Dogon religious worship is the cult of the masks, called Awa. All young men are instructed in the cult of the masks, but women are strictly excluded. This men’s society is characterized by a secret language, a strict etiquette, obligations, and interdicts. In addition, selected young men, called the olubaru, are given additional instruction, and will have the life-long duty of preserving the traditions of the masks.

In the public plaza of every village there is an altar of Lebe. The Lebe cult is associated with the agricultural cycle, and its chief priest is the hogon. The hogon is the oldest direct descendant of the founder of the Dogon, and rules over the affairs of the region. He has many regulatory functions as well as many priestly duties.

The cult of Binu, is usually referred to as being totemic; having exogamous totemic clans, the members of the clan having the same name and respecting the same animal or vegetable prohibition.

The cult of the ancestors is associated with the gina, the family households of the Dogon. The purpose of the many religious rituals this cult performs is to maintain good relations between the living and the dead. The gina bana is in charge of the ancestor cult. As in most African religions, ancestor worship is very important to the Dogon.

Dogon Statue
The Dogon carve many different kinds of statues as a form of worship to the ancestors. Although statues are the concrete expression of ancestor worship, they are carefully hidden away, viewed and handled only by those in the cult of the ancestors. There are three statues that are of particular importance to the Dogon. The first is the fox, which, according to myth, was punished for "trying to appropriate Nommo’s souls at the time of his sacrifice." The second is the silure fish, which represents the human fetus. The last statue is that of Dyongou Serou himself, who was summarily sacrificed to pay for his rash action. This sacrifice made mankind’s development on earth possible. This statue takes the form of an immense serpent called the "Great Mask."

Dogon Astronomic Knowledge
Dogon are famous for their astronomical knowledge taught through oral tradition, dating back thousands of years, referencing the star system, Sirius. The astronomical information known by the Dogon was not discovered and verified until the 19th and 20th centuries, making one wonder how the Dogon came by this knowledge. Their oral traditions say it was given to them by the Nommo; amphibious beings sent to earth from Sirius for the benefit of mankind.

Okay Guys, we came across a lot of information about Dogon peoples, their society and livelihood, their religion, cults, sculpture and their architecture. But there is still something missing here. Do you know what?

Yeah, you are right! It’s ‘Dogon Mythology’. Very soon I am coming with details of Dogon Mythology and controversy of alien’s relation with Dogon astronomical knowledge as well.

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