Back to the NECEP homepage
to browse the database, choose a continent, a country or directly a society
Africa >> Mali, Burkina Faso >> Dogon

Transversal questions
transversal questions
>> Guided Tour

Follow the guided tour
>> Ecology
>> Economics
>> History
>> Language
>> Material Culture
>> Religion
>> Society
General Facts General Facts
Resources Other websites
pictures videos sound
click to enlarge pictures

The Dogon of Mali have caught the attention of the Western world since the French conquest of their settlement area in the early 20th century. The Dogon are today one of the most intensively researched ethnic groups on the African continent; anthropological study of quasi industrial proportions has resulted in more than 1800 publications to date on different aspects of Dogon culture. The Dogon are best known for their elaborate cosmogony, their animist beliefs, astronomical knowledge, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their picturesque villages perched on the flanks of the Bandiagara cliffs. For many the Dogon embody unspoilt and ërealí West Africa, their authenticity guaranteed by their supposed isolation over several hundreds of years in the remote Bandiagara mountains. This view, however, fails to take into account intensive contacts of the Dogon with their neighbours over the past centuries. During the past century or so the Dogon have undergone significant changes in social organisation, material culture and beliefs (primarily through Islamisation). Many of their traditional customs have lost in importance over the past decades. Today ëDogon countryí forms one of Maliís major tourist attractions, with ëDogoní having become a well-selling commodity. The Dogon themselves benefit least from this development.

Most Dogon live south of the Niger bend in the Bandiagara region, which comprises the Bandigara plateau to the west, the sandy SÈno-Gondo plain to the east, and the Bandiagara escarpment, a cliff face of up to 400m height that stretches roughly north-south for about 200km dissecting the region. Further pockets of Dogon settlement are located to the north of the DyoundË escarpment in the Arrondissement of Boni (Cazes 1993), as well as in north-western Burkina Faso (Huizinga 1968). Many male Dogon today live in the cities of Mopti or Bamako in Mali, or in other West-African cities. In the Bandiagara region about 700 Dogon villages exist, which are inhabited by more than a quarter of a million people (Imperato 1978). The Dogon are subsistence farmers in an unfavourable arid environment and the restricted arable ground is intensively worked. Millet, maize, and onions are major agricultural products, and some domestic animals are kept for meat supply. The extended family is the basis of Dogon social organisation, the Dogon are patrilineal, patrilocal and exogamous; some speciality groups exist, such as blacksmiths, leatherworkers and griots (Imperato 1978; for a general introduction to the Dogon see Palau-Marti 1957).

Dogon, a language that has resisted classification up to now, has elements of both Mande and Gur languages. Its many dialects are often virtually unintelligible among each other (Calame-Griaule 1956; Palau-Marti 1957, 14-18 for a summary; Bendor-Samuel, Olsen and White 1989). The differences in language are accompanied by significant differences in material culture, oral traditions, and social and ritual institutions among the Dogon of the escarpment, plain and plateau, giving the impression of a heterogenous rather than a homogenous ethnic group.

Bendor-Samuel, J., Olsen, E. J. and White, A. R. 1989. Dogon. In: The Niger-Congo Languages. A classification and description of Africa's largest language family. Edited by J. Bendor-Samuel. Lanham: University Press of America. pp. 47-65.

Calame-Griaule, G. 1956. Les dialects Dogon. Africa: 62-72.

Cazes, M.-H. (ed.). 1993. Les Dogon de Boni. Approche dÈmo-gÈnÈtique d'un isolat du Mali. Paris: Editions de l'institut National d'Etudes DÈmographiques.

Huizinga, J. 1968. New physical and anthropological evidence bearing on the relationships between Dogon, Kurumba and the extinct West African Tellem populations. Proceedings van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen 71: 16-30.

Imperato, P. J. 1978. Dogon cliff dwellers: the art of Mali's mountain people. Exhibition Catalogue. New York: L. Kahan Gallery.

Palau-Marti, M. 1957. Les Dogon. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Author(s): C. Kleinitz
Date created: 2004-04-17 - Date modified: 2004-04-18

Dogon granary

Dogon elder

Dogon boy

Young mother and child

Collaborative annotation tool
(please leave your comments for this article in the form provided below or reply to a comment)
Carolyn Franzini, 20/11/2005
I find the article about the Dogon culture very interesting. I just purchased a Dogon granary door (60 yr old) and I wanted to learn more about the granary and the people. Thanks

Brian Patridge, 22/03/2006
Hey i would like to tell you that im very intrested in your drum. I am doing a project on you drum because it intrestes me alot and i wish i could make something like that but i just leaving you a comment tellin you about you drum that i like. If I ever do something with this drum i will leave you a comment so nice talking to you

Taylor Schmidt, 06/04/2006
this information is incredible! I bet you did alot of reseach. I wish, wish, and wish(just kidding on the wishing part).

TigerKat, 15/10/2006
This is such a cool website - so helpful THANKS!

ywlokomotiveyh, 14/08/2007
hello! nice site, I like it!

Please enter your name here:

Please enter your comment here: