The Dogon are a cliff-dwelling people who live in the south of
No one knows how the crocodiles got there because they are miles away from the nearest rivers. Some allege that is the work of god because they have been there since the time their ancestors got there. Perhaps god did put them there and indeed they did find a sympathetic home with the Dogon. Crocodiles and Dogon's have a unique understanding in Dogon. The Dogon's feed the crocodiles. They are the totem of the village and it is forbidden to harm them and kill them. During the rainy season when there is drought the Dogon shaman asks for the crocodiles blessing and 2-3 days later it rains. For the Dogon every rock plant and animal is powerful spirit that must be respected.
Thousands of visitors travel here each year and Dogon villagers also have access to modern technology. The older generation says traditions are dying and some blame tourism. But members of the younger generation say they can benefit from these changes without losing their culture. As the modern world encroaches on once-isolated spots, many minority cultures face this dilemma: how to adapt while holding on to their unique traditions. The Dogon at least have had considerable practice in revitalising their historyDogon villages are concentrated around water holes, usually in groups of five or six. These groups are referred to as 'cantons' or regions, each with their own distinct dialect. Villages are organised around family groups, which run through the father's lineage. Each household usually consists of the man, his wives, and their unmarried children. The Dogon are known to be a polygamous culture however, most men have only one wife; and it is rare for a man to have more than two wives. Formally, wives only join their husband's residence unit after the birth of their first child. Women may leave their husbands early in their marriage, before the birth of their first child. After having children, divorce is a rare and serious matter, and it requires the participation of the whole village. Members of the extended family collectively are called guinna.
The Dogon villages are communities are tightly-knit. A grouping of family compounds make up a Togu. All villages have at least one Togu Na, a shelter where the men gather and where disputes are settled, and a Lebe shrine. The Togu Na roofing comprises of three layers of millet (representing the plateau, the cliffs, and the plains). They are rebuilt every 60 years as part of a larger ritual.The oldest living descendant of the common ancestor of the lineage is called the Gina Bana. It is his primary responsibility to conduct ceremonies, as well as presiding over a council of elders made up of the adult men of the Togu.
The oldest direct descendant of the village founder is called the Hogon. He is considered to be the chief of the region, and together with the council of elders made up of the Gina Bana, presides over the policing, tax levies, and justice in the region. The Hogon also provides the link between the villagers and their ancestors. The Dogon are an intensely spiritual tribe, and look to their ancestors for guidance. Ethnic unity derives from all members of the region claiming kinship with a common ancestor, who was responsible for founding the first village in the region.
The Dogon tribe are highly skilled agriculturalists, having developed a unique irrigation system in an area known to be infertile and inhospitable. Their principal crops are millet, rice, beans, sorghum, sorrel, tobacco, and onions (introduced to the Dogon by a Frenchman at the turn of the century). They also keep herds of goats and sheep, along with some cows and poultry.
The Dogon have a hierarchical series of occupational 'castes' consisting of smiths, leather workers and griots. The griots function as lineage genealogists, musicians and poets. Caste members are segregated from the agriculturalists, living on the outskirts of Dogon settlements in autonomous communities of strict clan lineage with a ban on intermarriage. The members do not participate in the common religious cults although they take part in the Dama dances.
The smith is respected, and is believed to have supernatural powers due to his ability to make tools from iron and sculpture from wood. This is regarded as being a 'creator' and as such they are reported to be looked upon with 'suspicion'. In Dogon society, the smith is the symbolic mediator between the supernatural world and the human world. Only he and the Hogon have the right to intervene in communal disputes. He is the intermediary between men and their ancestors. The tools and carved images he creates function as vehicles by which fertility and support are obtained from the supernatural world. The leather worker is an intermediary in his function as merchant. He is the one who has contact with foreigners.
Male and female associations are entrusted with the initiations that take place by age group, corresponding to groups of newly circumcised boys or girls. The Dogon believe these operations remove the female element from males and vice versa. Circumcision thus creates a wholly male or female person prepared to assume an adult role. The blacksmith performs the male circumcision. Afterwards, they stay for a few days in a hut separated from the rest of the village people, until the wound has healed. The circumcision is a reason for celebration and the initiated boys goes around the village to receive presents.
Initiation of boys begins after their circumcision, with the teaching of the myths annotated by drawings and paintings in caves. The young boys learn the place of humans in nature, society, and the universe.
Ritual is an integral part of Dogon culture. The Dogon rites reflect awareness of the harmony between the human spirit and nature. Their religion includes the ancestral spirit Nommo and Sirian mythology, and has evolved over thousands of years. The beliefs are complex and knowledge of them varies within Dogon society.
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