Information about the Dogon

The Dogon are a group of people living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend in the Bandiagara region. They number about 300,000. 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 due to Dogon country being one of Mali's major tourist attractions.

Geography and demography

The principal Dogon area is dissected by the Bandiagara Escarpment, a sandstone cliff of up to 500m stretching for about 150km. To the southeast of the cliff, the sandy Séno-Gondo plains are found, and northwest of the cliff are the Bandiagara highlands.

Culture and religion

The majority of Dogon practice an animist religion, with its festivals and Sirian mythology, but a significant minority practice Islam, and some have been converted by missionaries to Christianity.

The Dogon record their ancestry through a patrilineal system. Each Dogon community is headed by one male elder. This chief head is the oldest living son of the ancestor of the local branch of the family. Within this patrilineal system couples will marry monogamously, although polygyny is occasionally known.

They are one of many African tribal groups which practice female circumcision.

The Dogon maintain an agricultural mode of subsistence, and cultivate millet, sorghum and rice, as well as onions and some other vegetables. They also raise sheep and chickens. Grain is stored in granaries.


Dogon has been frequently referred to as a single language. In reality, there are at least five distinct groups of dialects.[1] The Dogon language family is internally highly diverse, and many varieties are not mutually intelligible.

It is generally accepted that the Dogon languages belong to the Niger-Congo language family, but there is less certainty about their place within this family. The Dogon group has been linked to the Mande subfamily but also to Gur. In a recent overview of the Niger-Congo phylum, Dogon is treated as an independent branch before Volta-Congo. [2]

The Dogon languages show few remnants of a noun class system (one example is that human nouns take a distinct plural suffix), leading linguists to conclude that Dogon is likely to have diverged from Niger-Congo very early. Another indication of this is the Subject Object Verb basic word order, which Dogon shares with such early Niger-Congo branches as Ijoid and Mande.


Dogon mythology has been said to describe the white dwarf star Sirius B, which orbits Sirius but is not visible without the use of a powerful telescope.

The Dogon call Sirius B Po Tolo. This star was the seed of the Milky Way galaxy and "navel" of the entire universe, according to the Dogon mythological explanation. They describe the universe as "infinite, but measurable", and filled with many yalu ulo, or spiral star systems, including the one containing the Earth's sun.

According to the Dogon perception of the universe, most of the universe is part of the "external" star system, while nearer to Earth is the "internal" star system. The stars in the "internal" system include many that they claim affect the lives of people of Earth and play a part in human history, including not only the Sirius binary system, but also Orion, Pleiades and others.

The tribe neighboring the Dogon, the Bozo, have a similar mythology about Sirius in the sky and refer to it as the "Eye Star".


Most of the information regarding Dogon mythology and knowledge of Sirius and its companions comes from Robert Temple and his 1975 book The Sirius Mystery. While interviewing the Dogon, Temple found they had some information on Sirius and its companion star, Sirius B. Sirius B is invisible without a telescope. Since the Dogon did not have telescopes and were not an advanced civilization, he concluded that the only way they could have obtained the information on Sirius B was by contact with an advanced civilization. Therefore, Temple concluded that aliens from the Sirius star system personally visited the Dogons and made them familiar with the operation of their astronomical home.

Carl Sagan, among others, agrees with Temple that the Dogon could not have known about Sirius B without contact with an advanced civilization. However, Sagan argues that the Dogon could have found out about the Sirius neighbor by contact with advanced terrestrial civilizations. Information from those other cultures does refer to dark companions about 5,000 years ago in myths, which may have reached the then less isolated Dogon.

The Dogon have had a traditional interest in astronomy. By the 1920s, the Dogon had had contact with Western civilizations. It is only natural that conversations with visitors would eventually turn to astronomy. In fact, in the 1920s, there had been a great deal of press in scientific journals regarding Sirius and its neighboring star. Since Sirius A, which is visible to the naked eye, was a part of their mythology, it is reasonable that the visitors passed on information regarding its companion and its period of orbit and other information regarding the star.

By the time Temple visited the Dogon in the 1970s, they had had a great deal of contact with the western world and had time to incorporate Sirius B into their religion. To skeptics, it is unreasonable to assume that the Dogon's only source of information on the Sirius stars was extraterrestrial in origin.

Notes and references

  • The diversity is recognized since Bertho (1953). A very detailed recent report can be found in Hochstetler et. al. (2004)
  • Williamson and Blench (2000), p. 18.

The people
  • Bedaux, R. & J.D. van der Waals (eds.) (2003) Dogon: mythe en werkelijkheid in Mali [Dogon: myth and reality in Mali]. Leiden: National Museum of Ethnology.
  • Morton, Robert (ed.) & Hollyman, Stephenie (photographs) & Walter E.A. van Beek (text) (2001) Dogon: Africa's people of the cliffs. New York: Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-4373-5
  • Wanono, Nadine & Renaudeau, Michel (1996) Les Dogon (photographs by Michel Renaudeau; text by Nadine Wanono). Paris: Éditions du Chêne-Hachette. ISBN 2-85108-937-4
The languages
  • Bertho, J. (1953) 'La place des dialectes dogon de la falaise de Bandiagara parmi les autres groupes linguistiques de la zone soudanaise,' Bulletin de l'IFAN, 15, 405–441.
  • Blench, Roger (2001) 'A Survey of Dogon languages in Mali: Overview'. Retrieved June 26, 2005.
  • Hochstetler, J. Lee, Durieux, J.A. & E.I.K. Durieux-Boon (2004) Sociolinguistic Survey of the Dogon Language Area. SIL International. online version
  • Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger-Congo', in Heine, Bernd and Nurse, Derek (eds) African Languages - An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, pp. 11—42.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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