The Dogon in Mali & Cosmic Citizenship (part one)

The Dogon in Mali & Cosmic Citizenship

(Joost de la Rive Box)

The Keys to sciences of the past are given in “the desert”

Many of these megalithic sites are aligned with specific star grids. Sirius, Orion and the Pleiades were often used by the priest scientists of previous cycles for their trigonometric calculations.

(Cited from Key 215 and verse 215:53 of The Keys of Enoch ®).

Introduction

In the early 1930s a French scientist, Marcel Griaule [1], was asked by the French government to lead a research expedition into uncharted regions of West Africa. During this two-year voyage, he came into contact with the Dogon, and developed a fascination that would last a lifetime. He led a total of 36 expeditions before his untimely death in 1956[2]. Why this fascination? In the introduction to his 1938 study on the Dogon – Dieu d’Eau (Gods of Water), he observed; “there is a mental universe in the so-called primitive, an advanced civilization in a black head … a true culture, with learned thought, philosophy and even a cosmogony as complex as that of Hesiod” [3]. According to modern criteria for “development,” the Dogon would have ranked at the bottom of all scales in terms of literacy, education and economic status. Yet the harmonious community organization, the beauty of their architecture and art, and their elaborate cosmology are so impressive, that their “failure” to meet these modern standards may give us reason to reflect on our concepts of human development.

The article is divided into two parts. The first part aims to shed light on the Dogon cosmogonic myth [4], which could be called a ‘Dogon Book of Genesis‘ despite the fact that it is ‘written’ only in terms of sacred signs and symbols. It not only shows how an oral culture is able to convey and express profound wisdom, but also highlights the way the Dogon ‘live’ their creation myth in every aspect of daily life. It culminates in a mass celebration for the renewal of the world – the sigui, which is based upon the orbit of an invisible star in the Sirius system called Digitaria. The intriguing part of this myth is that several characteristics of the narrative are scientifically verifiable. Modern astronomy has shown them to be surprisingly accurate. Since how the Dogon acquired this knowledge cannot be explained, it came to be known as ‘the Sirius Mystery’. The encounter of myth and measurement is presented separately in Part 2.

Part 1 – The Dogon – An African Book of Genesis

The journey to Dogon country leads from the inhabited African landscape to an arid region in northeast Mali, close to the Sahel Reserve at the border with Burkina Faso. Here a fault line in the earth’s crust created a 150 km long vertical escarpment. In this remote area centuries ago, a people of unknown origin – now known as the Dogon – sought a safe haven in the protection of the many natural caves. The escarpment provided defensible positions against Islamic raiders and slave traders. Given their collective refusal to give up their culture and religious heritage, they were one of the last cultures in West Africa to come under French rule.

The Dogon build their villages of clay and stones, which gives them the appearance of organically shaped formations, resembling termite hills. The main center is called “Sangha” [5], centrally located on the escarpment, in the middle of some 80 smaller villages and settlements. The Dogon culture was still an oral one at the time Griaule recorded their traditions, but they have a visual language expressed in their colorful rock paintings, full of the sacred symbols and signs of their creation story. It took Griaule over 20 years to record the Dogon religious ideas before presenting his findings in “Dieu d’Eau” (Gods of Water, 1938, 1948). After the war, his work was completed by his assistant Germaine Dieterlen and presented in a publication of over 540 pages, in which all the signs and symbols of the creation story in the rock paintings are explained (The Pale Fox, 1965). There are thousands of these signs and symbols, covering such aspects as astronomy, anatomical and physiological knowledge as well as systematic pharmacopoeia.

 

In the Dogon creation story, Amma created Nommo as his son and the first living creature. After his creation, Nommo underwent a transformation and multiplied into four pairs of twins. One of the twins, Ogo, rebelled against the universal order created by Amma.

In Griaule’s description of the creation myth, almost 200 pages are devoted to the supreme God Amma and his works. Another 360 pages describe “Ogo’s Revolt”, the sacrifice and resurrection of “Nommo” and the creation of men. The beauty of the rock paintings, is certainly reflected in the wording of this legend by Griaule’s main informant, a blind elder called Ogotemmêli;

“Ogo will eventually assume the form of a pale fox, the image of its downfall, for the formation of the eight perfect beings, upon whom Amma had bestowed the “word”, and who were to be the chiefs or the kings of the creation in progress, would be permanently disrupted by the individual activity and by the initiative of the fox”.

Amma performed the work of creation in several stages. This work consisted of giving volume to that explosive force He had conferred on his own thought, projected outside himself while he was materializing the world. The animated forms born according to the successive stages of the drawing and transmitting their germinating force from the inside of the seeds all the way to the stars, were the only facet of the universal motion that Amma himself had bestowed upon the world.” [6]

Ogo tried to gain possession of Amma’s work for his own advantage;

Dissatisfied and breaking all the rules, Ogo began to move about with the intention of getting hold of the secrets of the universe in formation” [7].

To restore order to his creation, Amma sacrificed another of the Nommo progeny, whose body was dismembered and scattered throughout the universe. According to the legend, a Nommo was sent to the earth in an ark, along with the ancestors of men and all living beings. The ark was suspended from Heaven by a copper chain (the Milky Way), which allowed the ark to float down to Earth, and like the Sun, traverse the sky and settle in the west. During their landing on Earth the ark descended, spinning to the ground with great noise and wind.

The Nommo were seen as amphibians, with their upper part visible and their lower part ‘under water’. The sacred signs and symbols of this story are laid down in wall paintings (photos above), in which the Nommo is represented by a fish symbol (illustration below). Other symbols are expressed in masks for ceremonial dances and household objects.

The following quote shows that the amphibious nature of the Nommo may have to be interpreted metaphorically:

“The Nommo was red like fire because during the descent he came close to the sun and got fire. When he touched the ground, he became white. He is like a flame snuffed out by its contact with the Earth. To leave the ark, the Nommo first put his left foot on the ground, and this gesture constituted his taking possession of it. He pressed his foot on the ‘field’ of the fox and crushed it, thus demonstrating his eventual domination over the whole Earth that the fox had formed.” [8]

This step of the Nommo is represented in the wall paintings by the symbol of ‘tonu’, a sandal of the Nommo, and it is associated with the relative nature of the time dimension:

By crushing the earth the Nommo imprinted signs upon it; by the force of his heel, he imprinted those meaning “the world has arrived”; by the sole of his foot, including the gap left by the arch connoting the condition of the Earth he was taking possession of, he left these signs meaning “the work is accomplished”; finally, by the impressions of his toes, he made those of the ultimate accomplishment, meaning “the world will come”. In this way, by bringing the present, the past and the future together, he imprinted the symbols of his reign and of the order of the universe that was his responsibility to maintain” [9]

 

The Dogon still construct a representation of the ark, woven from dry leaves into a boat shaped basked and kept in every house for ritual purposes.

The Dogon Priest – the Hogon – who traditionally lived alone in a cave, plays a major role in community life. His light energy was thought to be so great that he would not leave his cave, unless he was carried on the shoulders of strong men. Otherwise it was believed that the crops would burn in the field. According to the Dogon sources the Hogon is visited at night by the sacred snake Lébé to clean him and transfer wisdom.

Cosmic citizenship, as perceived by the Dogon, is evident also in their architecture, for instance in their granaries. In the creation story, Amma gave the ancestors the seeds of eight different types of crops and it is the duty of everyone to multiply, carefully store and pass on these eight species.

 

 

Therefore, the grain storage for each ‘ginna’ (a large family house) consists of two floors in which four quadrants are demarcated by wooden partitioning. In each quadrant one of the eight species of seed is stored. All the shapes in the granary symbolize the cosmic relationship. When the first ancestor descended from heaven, he stood on the square bottom that served him as a place to sleep. The dome at the top represents the heavens.

The first-born creature of Amma, the jackal, has the power to reveal the news and future of the people on earth. Every evening, the elders of neighboring villages go to the rock where their villages meet. In a “tableau de divination” (picture on the right), the villagers’ questions are symbolically engraved by elders in the sand with peanuts and sticks. When darkness falls, they leave to return the next day to read the predictive messages made by the jackal with its tracks. The messages are analyzed in turn by the elders.

Several aspects of the creation story are celebrated in the most important ceremony of the Dogon – the Sigui. It takes place only twice in a century, but the festivities take several years. The last one started in 1967 and ended in 1973.

The Sigui ceremony symbolizes the death and the renewal of the world. The Sigui is a long sequence of different ceremonies with dance and use of masks. Before the ceremony, young men go into seclusion for three months, during which they talk in a secret language. During the ceremony, to mark the death of the earth, the men walk out of the village into the desert and hide themselves in holes dug beneath the sand for a period of fasting. When they emerge, it is in a long snake-like procession to celebrate the renewal of the world. The creation story, and the structuring of daily life, is a continuous reminder that the works of the rebellious Ogo – the fallen son of God – are overcome through the renewal of the world.

 

The timing of the sigui is based upon the cycle of a star orbiting Sirius, which they called Digitaria. The existence of this white dwarf now known as Sirius B, and some of the quantum physics involved in the collapse of a star, appear to be accurately described by this age-old myth. For half a century the Dogon legends puzzled scientists. How could they know all of this? After reviewing the evidence in the light of current astronomical observations, another question presents itself (paraphrasing Prof. Frans de Waal [10]): ‘Are we smart enough to understand the knowledge of indigenous peoples?’

Sources:

  • Griaule Marcel, DIEU D’EAU,
entretiens avec Ogotemmêli, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1938, 1948, 224 pages.
  • Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. In: Journal de la Société des Africanistes, 1950, tome 20, fascicule 2. pp. 273-294; http://www.persee.fr/doc/jafr_0037-9166_1950_num_20_2_2611
  • Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine, Le Renard Pale (The Pale Fox), l’Institut d’Ethnologie, Paris, 1965 (540 pages).
  • J.J. Hurtak, The Keys of Enoch, The Academy for Future Science, 1973

Photos:

  • Ir. J. van Stigt, Dogon Art, Anthropology & Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, Technical University Delft 1999.
  • Sigui Synthèse – L’Invention de la parole et de la mort (1981). A film of Germaine Dieterlen and Jean Rouch on the 1967 Sigui celebration.
  • Joost de la Rive Box, Mali 2009/2010.

Endnotes

  1. Marcel Griaule (1898 -1956), anthropologist, founder of the ‘Institut d’Ethnologie’, Paris.
  2. Reportedly the Dogon people gathered in great numbers for two mass ceremonies in his honor; one ‘funérailles’ and one later to celebrate the ‘end of mourning’.
  3. Griaule Marcel, DIEU D’EAU, page 8.
  4. A cosmogonic myth is the primal myth of creation within a religious community. The term myth here refers to the imaginative expression in narrative form of what is experienced or apprehended as basic reality. (source: Encyclopedia Britannica)
  5. It is worth noting that this place name “Sangha” is is identical to the Sanskrit word for (monastic) community, known from the Buddhist ‘Three Jewels’ affirmation; “I seek refuge in the Buddha, I seek refuge in the Dharma, I seek refuge in the Sangha”. The Dogon have literally taken refuge in Sangha, to seek protection against oppressive Islamic tribes, thus preserving their own traditions and religious heritage.
  6. The Pale Fox, Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine (page 184).
  7. The Pale Fox, Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine (page 198)
  8. The Pale Fox, Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine (page 468).
  9. The Pale Fox, Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine (page 470).
  10. Prof. Frans de Waal PhD: “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”, 2017, Atlanta University, USA. Frans de Waal was named one of TIME Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2007: The People Who Shape Our World’.