Wooden statuettes found primarily in burial caves in the Bandiagara escarpment have often been celebrated as art objects. They have frequently been interpreted as expressions of Dogon mythology as published by Marcel Griaule, Germaine Dieterlen, and others. However, little is known about their actual functions in Dogon society, the chronology, geographical distribution and significance of differing styles, or their dating. The overwhelming majority of wooden statuettes from the Bandiagara region is unprovenanced. Check the following links for further details
Types of sculpture have been devised on the basis of themes (Laude 1964 and 1973), geographical origin (De Grunne 1988, 1993 and 2001) and inferred ethnic/temporal/geographical provenance (Leloup 1994). The statuettes can be described according to type and height, patination, and characteristics such as sex, posture, hair, tattoos, finery, clothing, the position of the arms, and their back (Bedaux 2004). Among the dated statuettes ten types can be distinguished: 1.) statuettes with raised arms, 2.) statuettes in form of a tree trunk, 3.) diverse, 4.) figures (in differing positions), 5.) musicians, 6.) horse riders, 7.) women with children, 8.) brigands, 9.) hunchbacks, 10.) diverse figures.
More than 100 statuettes from the region have been radiocarbon dated; they can be grouped into three major temporal periods: 1.) before 1350 (23%) - the oldest statuette dates to the 11th century, 2.) between 1350 and 1650 (45%) and 3.) after 1650 (32%). Period 1 thus can be correlated to the Tellem settlement of the area, period 3 to the Dogon settlement, while period two can be described as a transitional phase between both populations and cannot be securely attributed to one or the other. Correlations exist between the 10 types of wooden sculpture and the tree main temporal periods: of 42 statuettes of type 1 18 date to period 1 and 23 to period 2, while only one atypical example dates to period 3. Of the 107 figures without raised arms 7 date to period 1, 25 to period 2 and 33 to period 3 (see Bedaux and Person 2004).
It is difficult to establish the traditional use of these objects today, as Dogon society has undergone fundamental changes during the 20th century, with the loss of traditional ways of life and religious ideas in favour of Christianity or Islam, and with the sale of most statuettes on the international art market. Rare discussions of wooden statuettes in their possible traditional context include those of Van Beek and Bouju.
Anthropomorphic wooden statuette with raised arms, 11th-16th century AD (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands)
Anthropomorphic wooden statuette. 11th-16th century (Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands)
Tellem wooden statuette from the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde Leiden
Author(s): Text: Cornelia Kleinitz, abstract of R.M.A. Bedaux and A. Person (2004), La statuaire mythique des Dogon, in R.M.A. Bedaux and J.D. van der Waals, Regards sur les Dogon du Mali. Leiden (Exhibition Catalogue)
Date created: 2003-10-18 - Date modified: 2004-03-02