In Mali, West Africa, lives a tribe of people called the Dogon. The Dogon are believed to be of Egyptian decent and their astronomical lore goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC.
They live in the central plateau region of the country of Mali, in the West of the Continent of Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region. The population numbers between 400,000 and 800,000 The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, 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 because Dogon country is one of Mali's major tourist attractions.
The principal Dogon area is bisected by the Bandiagara Escarpment, a sandstone cliff of up to 500m (1,640 ft) high, stretching about 150 km (90 miles). To the southeast of the cliff, the sandy Séno-Gondo Plains are found, and northwest of the cliff are the Bandiagara Highlands.
Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area in consequence of the Dogon people's collective refusal to convert to Islam a thousand years ago. Dogon insecurity in the face of these historical pressures caused them to locate their villages in defensible positions along the walls of the escarpment. The other factor influencing their choice of settlement location is water. The Niger River is nearby and in the sandstone rock, a rivulet runs at the foot of the cliff at the lowest point of the area during the wet season.
Among the Dogon several oral traditions have been recorded as to their origin. One relates to their coming from Mande, located to the southwest of the Bandiagara escarpment near Bamako. According to this oral tradition, the first Dogon settlement was established in the extreme southwest of the escarpment at Kani-Na. Over time the Dogon moved north along the escarpment, arriving in the Sanga region in the 15th century. Other oral histories place the origin of the Dogon to the west beyond the river Niger, or tell of the Dogon coming from the east. It is likely that the Dogon of today combine several groups of diverse origin who migrated to escape Islamization.
It is often difficult to distinguish between pre-Muslim practices and later practices, though Islamic law classified them and many other ethnicities of the region, (Mossi, Gurma, Bobo, Busa and the Yoruba) as being within the non-canon dar al-harb and consequently fair game for slave raids organized by merchants. As the growth of cities increased the demand for slaves across the region of West Africa also increased. The historical pattern has included the murder of indigenous males by Islamic raiders and enslavement of women and children.
Dogon art is primarily sculpture. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms. Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon. The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made. Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures. Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs.
Culture and Religion.
The majority of Dogon practice an animist religion, including the ancestral spirit Nommo, with its festivals and a sect in which Sirius plays an important part. A significant minority of the Dogon practice Islam, another minority practice Christianity.
The Dogon record their ancestry through a patrilineal system. Each Dogon community, or enlarged family, is headed by one male elder. This chief head is the oldest living son of the ancestor of the local branch of the family. According to the NECEP database, within this patrilineal system polygynous marriages with up to four wives can occur.
Most men, however, have only one wife, and it is rare for a man to have more than two wives. Formally, wives only join their husband's household after the birth of their first child. Women may leave their husbands early in their marriage, before the birth of their first child. After having children, divorce is a rare and serious matter, and it requires the participation of the whole village. An enlarged family can count up to hundred persons and is called guinna.
The Dogon are strongly oriented toward harmony, which is reflected in many of their rituals. For instance, in one of their most important rituals, the women praise the men, the men thank the women, the young express appreciation for the old, and the old recognize the contributions of the young. Another example is the custom of elaborate greetings whenever one Dogon meets another. This custom is repeated over and over, throughout a Dogon village, all day. During a greeting ritual, the person who has entered the contact answers a series of questions about his or her whole family, from the person who was already there. The answer is sewa, which means that everything is fine. Then the Dogon who has entered the contact repeats the ritual, asking the resident how his or her whole family is. Because the word sewa is so commonly repeated throughout a Dogon village, neighboring peoples have dubbed the Dogon the sewa people.
The Hogon is the spiritual leader of the village. He is elected between the oldest men of the enlarged families of the village. After his election he has to follow a six-month initiation period, during which he is not allowed to shave or wash. He wears white clothes and nobody is allowed to touch him. A young virgin that has not yet had her period takes care of him, cleans the house and prepares his meals. She returns to her home at night.
After his initiation, he will wear a red fez. He has an armband with a sacred pearl that symbolises his function. The virgin is replaced by one of his wives, but she also returns to her home at night. The Hogon has to live alone in his house. The Dogon believe the sacred snake Lébé comes during the night to clean him and to transfer wisdom.
The Dogon maintain an agricultural mode of subsistence, and cultivate pearl millet, sorghum and rice, as well as onions, tobacco, peanuts, and some other vegetables. Marcel Griaule stimulated the construction of a dam near Sangha and incited the Dogon to cultivate onions. The economy of the Sangha region doubled since then and its onions are sold as far as the market of Bamako and even Côte d'Ivoire. They also raise sheep, goats and chickens. Grain is stored in granaries.
Advanced knowledge of Astronomy and Mathematics.
The Dogon Tribe has an incredibly advanced and accurate knowledge of astronomy and mathematics which they could not have discovered or developed by themselves.
No one knows where the Dogon Tribe originated. Some have speculated that they were of Egyptian descent. Their traditions and folk ceremonies are aligned with the movements of an invisible and yet unknown star, Sirius B, which they knew travel around Sirius A every 50 years in an elliptical manner, something which was completely unknown to Western astronomers that time.
Sirius A is a bright star which can be seen in the western sky through the naked eye, but not Sirius B, its invisible companion.
The Dogon people knew that Sirius B was very small but very dense or heavy. Yet its existence was proven only in 1970 when it was photographed for the first time by Western astronomers. The Dogon tribe knew about the existence of this invisible star for thousands of years.
They also knew that Saturn has four moons, and has rings or halos around it, although these cannot be seen without powerful telescopes.
Where did these primitive people get their knowledge of the Sirius Star system? According to tribe elders, as related to the French visitors in 1939, their knowledge of the sky was given to them by creatures who descended on Earth thousands of years ago from Sirius B.
They call these creatures Nommos, who were amphibious, meaning, they lived both on water and dry land. And they had very advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics.
To Western scientists, such stories of extraterrestrial contacts are merely myths handed down from one generation to another, but to the Dogon people they are as solid as the ground they stand on.
Information about the extraterrestrial origin of the Dogon Tribe’s accurate astronomical knowledge is the topic of the well-documented but controversial book by Robert Temple, “The Sirius Mystery,” published by Random House in London in 1977 and revised in 1998.
In that book, Temple boldly and categorically stated that there must have been contact with advanced extraterrestrial creatures as far back as 5000 and 3000 B.C.
According to Temple, not only the Dogon Tribe of West Africa but also the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians spoke of creatures who came from the Sirius Star system. And their oral traditions agree that these ETs were amphibious.
Dogon society is composed of several different sects:
The Amma sect: worships the highest creator god Amma. The celebration is once a year and consists of offering boiled millet on the conical altar of Amma, colouring it white. All other sects are directed to the god Amma.
The Lébé sect: worships the ancestor Lébé Serou, the first mortal human being, who, in Dogon myth, was transformed into a snake. The celebration takes place once a year and lasts for three days.
The Binou sect: uses totems, common ones for the entire village and individual ones for totem priests. A totem animal is worshipped on a Binou altar. Totems are for example the buffalo for Ogol-du-Haut, and the panther for Ogol-du-Bas.
The twin sect: the birth of twins is a sign of good luck. The enlarged Dogon families have common rituals during which they evoke all their ancestors till their origin.
The Mono sect: the Mono altar is at the entry of every village. Unmarried young men celebrate the Mono sect once a year in January or February.
Dogon has been frequently referred to as a single language. In reality, there are at least five distinct groups of dialects. The most ancient dialects being dyamsay and tombo, the former being most frequently used for traditional prayers and ritual chants. The Dogon language family is internally highly diverse, and many varieties are not mutually intelligible, actually amounting to some 12 dialects and 50 sub-dialects. There is also a secret ritual language sigi sǫ (language of Sigi), which is taught to dignitaries (olubarū) of the Society of the Masks during their enthronement at the Sigui ceremony. Women have no right to learn Sigui So.