The Dogon are an ancient group from Mali in West Africa. They are said to be of Egyptian decent and their astronomical lore goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC. The Dogon people believe they are the living conduit between heaven and Earth and to possess not only knowledge of the cosmos, but of man’s true origins.
For centuries the Dogon successfully managed to remain isolated from neighboring influences as well as from capture by Islamic slave traders. Their cultural, oral and written history stayed miraculously intact. There is much debate surrounding the subject of astrophysical claims the Dogon knew prior to the modern science world.
Social stratification among the Dogon involves a complex ordering of individuals based on their position within various social groups defined either by descent or locality. Groupings include clan, village, patria-lineage, and, for men, an age-set or -grade.
Each of these groups is hierarchically ordered based on age and the rules of descent, and all of the group levels interact with one another, so that one who is generally well respected within the family will most likely hold an important position within society.
Dogon religion is defined primarily through the worshiping of the ancestors and the spirits whom they encountered as they moved across the Western Sudan. The Awa society is responsible for carrying out the rituals, which allow the deceased to leave the world of the living and enter the world of the dead.
Public rites include funerary rites (bago bundo) and the dama ceremony, which marks the end of the mourning period. Awa society members are also responsible for planning the sigui ceremonies, which commence every sixty years to hand on the function of the dead initiates to the new recruits.
The rites involve masking traditions and are carried out only by initiated males who have learned the techniques needed to impersonate the supernaturals, or spirits. The leader of the Awa society is the olaburu who is a master of the language of the bush (sigi so). The society is divided in accordance with age-grades, ignoring traditional lineage and hierarchical ordering within the village.
The Dogon are best known for their extensive carving of masks and wooden figurative art. The primary colors used by the Dogon are usually red, black, and white, and popular patterns include spirals and checkerboard motifs, both of which can be traced to their origin stories.