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Among the Dogon circumcision forms part of the transformation of a boy into a young adult (Leiris and Schaeffner 1936). Circumcision rituals in the Bandiagara region are characterised by a period of transformation (the operation and following instruction) in seclusion and a period of reintegration into the village community. Circumcision sites are frequently places on or beyond the edge of villages, that offer protection from the gazes of onlookers, particularly women, and that mark the separation of the boys from the village and their parents. Social bonds are formed during the seclusion period among the members of the circumcision group. Among the Dogon of Songo, such circumcision groups constitute age sets, toru (= tonu in the Sanga region), which form an important subdivision of society.

Dogon myth, as published by Griaule and Dieterlen (1965), explains the necessity to remove the female element (the prepuce) from a boyís body to enable him to become a man. Similarly, the removal of the clitoris, thought to be the male element in girls, is considered necessary for them to become women. The excision of girls takes place within the villages, in contrast to circumcision ceremonies, that take place outside the village boundaries. Although circumcision is justified by Dogon myth and therefore appears long established, it is possible that this ritual has been adopted only in the more recent past under the influence of Islam and merged with local initiation rites (van Beek, pers. comm.). With the spread of Islam in the Bandiagara region, the circumcision ritual acquires a more and more Islamic colouring and justification.


Beek, W. van
1991 Enter the bush: a Dogon mask festival. In: S. Vogel, Africa explores; 20th century African art. New York: 56-73.
Leiris, M. & A. Schaeffner
1936 Les rites de circoncision des Dogon de Sanga. Journal de la SociÈtÈ des Africanistes 6: 141-161.
Griaule, M. & G. Dieterlen
1965 Le renard p‚le. Paris.

Author(s): Text: C. Kleinitz, extract from C. Kleinitz and B. Dietz (2003), Signs of the times, times of the signs: Rock art and circumcision at Songo. Leiden: Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (digital publication at
Date created: 2003-10-18 - Date modified: 2004-03-02

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