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The Dogons

Updated: Mar 23

This painting depicts three Dogon Men from the valley of Bandiagara (Mali), dressed in ceremonial costumes and masks.

The Dogons are a west African people, from the country now known as Mali. The Dogon land is specifically in the cliffs and plateau of Bandiagara which their arrival is estimated around the 13th century following the fall of the Malian empire. The Badiangara cliffs and plateau region are now protected by UNESCO and have been registered since 1989. Nevertheless, the ancestors of the Dogons originally came from Mande, an area in the southwest of Mali and northeast Guinea. Those who at first sight deemed them as primitive, are baffled. Their symbiosis with the environment is expressed through cults, traditions, ceremonies, and rituals honoring the Creator (Amma), the ancestors, and the stars. Everything within their culture is of profound symbolism. Everything from their food, clothing, potteries, and sculptures homes tells a story. They have been able to assemble every resource at hand, to design their place of living in a fashion that embodies cleverly their journey through existence.

The architecture manifests an anthropomorphic symbolism and is esthetically typical of what we can find in the rest of Mali (Timbuktu) or the Sudano-Sahelian (Mosque of Djenné) architecture style. The structure, the rooms, or parts of the rooms of the houses either represent the female or the male aspects. Also, many sculptures refer to the Nommo in some sort of androgynous fashion, the spirit entities, the feminine and masculine aspects in one body, the original twin couples of the beginning, which became the man and woman we know today. Again, it is the symbiosis between the Dogon mind, the spiritual practice, and their way of integrating their architectural legacy into the natural landscape that makes the perfect blend.

The first contact between the European and the Dogons, was in 1857 before they came to colonize the region during the 1890s. A more fruitful contact was made with de Dogons during the 1930s by the anthropologists/ethnographers Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen. Marcel Griaule himself has a great number of books and documentation on Africa. Both Griaule and Dieterlen have left a consistent amount of work on the Dogon tribe which they are mostly known for.

The Dogons have mostly preserved their animist faith where Amma is recognized as the Supreme God, possessing attributes comparable to what is known in the Abrahamic traditions. Amma is the creator of all planes of existence. The Dogons also practice several totemic cults, incorporating the cult of masks, the Lebe cult, the Binu cult, and the Ginna cult for the ancestors. Beyond this some Dogons are Christian and others are Muslim. More recently, with the spread of Islam, some precepts have been integrated with the Dogon's spiritual practice. Note that the Qur'an precisely mentions the star Sirius in the surat "Al-Najm" meaning "The Star" (53:48-50). The star Sirius has a primary place in the Dogons cosmogony.

The Dogons offer us an elaborate cosmogony where they relate their origin to the star Sirius. Many books have discussed the subject, but it is Marcel Griaule who has introduced through his studies that the Dogons had concise knowledge of the Sirius binary system, a knowledge they held when there was no technology to verify it.

Sirius A, the brightest star in our night sky is called "Sigi Tolo" by the Dogons. Sirius B is called "Po Tolo" or the "Fonio Star" relating to the cereal grain. Sirius C, a star that is still obscure to our contemporaries, is called "Emme Ya Tolo", "The Sorghum star" another cereal grain. Two of the stars are confirmed by the scientific community and are attested to be a binary system by NASA. Thus Sirius A is the brightest star in our night sky that can be sighted with our eyes. Sirius B was first sighted contemporarily in 1862 by Alvan Graham Clark with his optical refracting telescope. Today Sirius B can be sighted through places such as Chandra's observatory, with a X-ray orbiting telescope. Except for the investigations by R.C. Ceragioli in the mid-90s, I haven't found any conclusive information on the discovery of Sirius C, by our contemporaries.

In an interview between host, Marc Leval and astrophysicist Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud on the radio show "Leval sait tout" on "Sud Radio" in France. The astrophysicist revealed that according to the Dogons, Sirius B takes 60 years to turn around Sirius A, and Sirius C takes 32 years. What is confirmed by the scientist is that Sirius B takes 50 years and a few months to turn around into a bright star. Sirius A called Sigi Tolo by the Dogons is celebrated every 60 years with a ceremony called Sigi. The Dogons claim that the third star (Sirius C) has multiple planets in its orbit and that it's from one of these planets that their extraterrestrial ancestor came from, a long time ago. They came in a spaceship with features similar to the Apollo rockets. Therefore, they came from their planet to earth, on that spaceship. When they came to earth, it was pitch black, then they first saw the bright Star "Sirius A" followed by the apparition of the sun. This is what they called the first morning of the world. The Dogons claim to have come from four common ancestors and have been able to transmit knowledge of the stars, and astronomy through generations. Artifacts can also be found reflecting their knowledge and practice of astronomy. Relations are made between the Egyptians, the Bantus, the Pygmies, and the Dogons in regard to Sirius and some aspect of their cosmologies.

Astrophysicist Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud on "SIRIUS, L'ÉTOILE DOGON ( Conférence part. 1 & 2)"

Documentary "Sirius, L'étoile Dogon" with Germaine Dieterlen, Jean Rouch, Jean-Marc Bonnet-Bidaud (1999). We can hear the voice of a woman reading a part of the book "Le Renard Pâle" (The Pale Fox).

*** To Be Continued ***

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