Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Dogon People of Mali

I have created a slide show incorporating the blend that makes up the Dogon People's unique aesthetic. It includes architecture, tribal art, nature, pottery and Saharan sand, all of which are closely interwoven into everyday life.

The Dogon are a group of people living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. They number just under 800,000. The Dogon are best known for their mythology, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture. The past century has seen significant changes in the social organization, material culture and beliefs of the Dogon, partly because Dogon country is one of Mali's major tourist attractions.

Dogon art is primarily sculpture. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms. Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon. The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made.

Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures. Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs.

Certain researchers investigating the Dogon have reported that they seem to possess advanced astronomical knowledge, the nature and source of which has subsequently become embroiled in controversy. From 1931 to 1956, two French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, spent 25 years with the Dogon, during which time they were initiated into the tribe. Griaule and Dieterlen reported that the Dogon appeared to know that the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, has a faint companion, Sirius B, which requires a fairly large telescope to be seen. They also appeared to know of the rings of Saturn, and the Moons of Jupiter, which were not discovered by astronomers until after the invention of the telescope in the 17th century. This is a puzzle because the Dogon do not have telescopes. The controversy escalated when author Robert Temple suggested an extra-terrestrial source of the Dogon's knowledge. Griaule and Dieterlen made no claims on the source of the Dogon's knowledge.

More recently, doubts have been raised about the validity of Griaule and Dieterlein's work. The anthropologist Walter van Beek concluded after his research among the dogon that though they do speak about sigu tolo [which is what Griaule claimed the Dogon called Sirius] they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule.

Griaule's daughter, Genevieve Calame-Griaule, has retorted that criticisms of her father's findings are mostly rooted in speculation. An independent assessment is given by Andrew Apter of the University of California.

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