The Dogon in Mali & Cosmic citizenship
Part 2 – The “Sirius mystery”: myth and measurement
Dogon legend on the Sirius system
According to Dogon legend, the Nommo visited the earth from a celestial body in the Sirius system. The Nommo gave the Dogon knowledge of an invisible star in this system called Digitaria, which would be both the smallest and the heaviest celestial body in the universe. It was called the “Egg of the Cosmos” (Aduno Tal). Digitaria moves in an elliptical orbit around Sirius and completes an orbit twice a century. This was celebrated with the Sigui ceremony described above.
As Sirius B cannot possibly be observed with the naked eye, the question that fascinated many scientists after Griaule’s publications is how the Dogon could have known about Sirius B without the tools of modern astronomy. In Robert K. Temple’s book “The Sirius Mystery” (1976), which made Griaule’s work known to a larger public, the author takes this one step further. His central question is whether the earth has been visited by intelligent beings from the area of Sirius in the distant past. Since several aspects of the Dogon legend are scientifically verifiable, it is possible to review the myth in the context of current astronomic observations.
Was Digitaria a prediction of Sirius B?
According to Griaule’s study in the 1930’s, the Digitaria cycle has been recognized and celebrated in the Dogon community for more than 400 years. The first scientific suggestions for the existence of Sirius as a double star originate in the mid-19th century. From the slightly erratic movement of Sirius A, the brightest star in heaven, it was predicted that Sirius could possibly be a double star (illustration on the left). Through measurements made over a longer period, the existence of the weakly radiating binary companion, Sirius B, could be substantiated. It was not until 1970 that it was first photographed with a modern telescope. But many questions remained. Sirius B is a ‘white dwarf’; the final phase of a star in which no fusion occurs anymore and thus radiation is weaker. The discovery of the peculiar features of this star is described as follows by NASA :
“Sirius B was found to have a mass about equal to that of the Sun, as expected. However, its luminosity is only about 2 percent that of the Sun. The luminosity of a star depends on its surface temperature and its diameter. The abnormally low luminosity of Sirius B can be explained by assuming that Sirius B has a very low temperature or a very small diameter. The temperature was found to be even higher than that of the Sun; thus, the inescapable conclusion is that Sirius B has a diameter of only about a hundredth of that of the Sun. Because of the white color of the star, it was called a “white dwarf” star. This was an extraordinary discovery. It meant that the same amount of material contained in the Sun is packed into a volume one-millionth the size of the Sun. The density of material in Sirius B must be a million times denser than that of ordinary matter. That is, a cubic centimeter of Sirius B matter has the same mass as a small automobile!”
In answer to the question of whether Digitaria could be seen as a prediction of the existence of Sirius B, it is interesting to see how the characteristics attributed by the Dogon to Digitaria relate to current astronomical knowledge. Let us look at five characteristics, taking the verbatim formulation of Griaule’s local sources as our point of departure:
- The period of two total orbits is a hundred years.
- Digitaria is the smallest of all and the heaviest star.
- Digitaria is white, while Sirius is red.
- Digitaria has a companion star: Emme Ya.
- Emme Ya is accompanied by a planet called “Nyan Tolo”.
Celestial orbit. “The duration of the orbit is double counted, that is to say a hundred years, because the Sigui are also assembled by pairs of “twins”, in order to recall the fundamental principle of twinning.  The cycle of Digitaria was recorded over centuries on the rock wall with certain triangular signs. The illustration on the right is Griaule’s copy of that wall painting. It suggests that in the case of the Dogon it is appropriate to say that Sirius was used “by priest scientists … for their trigonometric calculations“, as stated in the Keys of Enoch .
Griaule’s sources indicated two orbits in 100 years, or 50 years per cycle. Griaule’s own calculation was derived from the triangles in the above illustration, which were added to a rock painting each time Digitarius had completed a full cycle. Based upon his interpretation of the rock painting Griaule estimated an orbit of 60 years, as shown in the above drawing. The celestial orbit of Sirius B is calculated in modern astronomy as 50 years. It turned out that Griaule’s source, a local priestess, was more accurate than the learned scientist. Her name was Innekouzou Dolo, an Ammayana (priestess of Amma), diviner, inhabitant of Sangha-le-Haut.
Digitaria is extremely compact. “Digitaria is the smallest of all things. It is the heaviest star. It is composed of a metal called sagala, a little brighter than iron, and of such a weight that all earthly beings united cannot lift it.” . The super compactness of Sirius B is a fact, as described in the NASA quote above. Sirius B is smaller than planet Earth but weighs much more. In fact, it is extremely compact; the average density is 2000 kg per cm3. At the time, it was not understood why such a super-compact object did not collapse under its own gravity. It took advances in quantum physics before it was understood that implosion into a black hole was resisted through what is called “electron degeneracy pressure”. The mentioning of a special metal (sagala) in the Dogon legend is interesting, in view of the latest observations by the LIGO and Virgo detectors in September 2017 :
“The observations have given astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to probe a collision of two neutron stars. For example, observations … reveal signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum, solving a decade- long mystery of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced.”
Both neutron stars and white dwarfs are the remnants of stars at the end of their lifecycle. The atoms in our gold or platinum wedding rings all originate from collapsed stars. The unknown metal “sagala, a little brighter than iron ” fits the appearance of platinum. However, under the very special conditions of a collapsed star (an electron-degenerate state of matter), indeed a quantity of this material could easily be “of such a weight that all earthly beings united cannot lift it”.
Digitaria is white. “The eighth Hogon taught men the characteristics of the star and of the Sirius system in general. The star, which is white in color while Sirius is seen as red, is at the origin of things.” . As a white dwarf Sirius B is in the final stage of a star that has passed through the red giant phase. Once the red giant has insufficient mass for the high temperature required for nuclear fusion, the fusion process stops. The weak light of a white dwarf is a kind of afterglow of her core. The above quote from the recent LIGO press release makes it clear that in fact half of all elements heavier than iron in the periodic table originate from collapsed stars. As Digitaria (Sirius B) is one of those, the statement that it is “at the origin of things” is not as farfetched as it may seem.
Digitaria has a companion. Griaule: “But Digitaria is not the only companion of Sirius: the star Emme Ya, more voluminous than it, but four times lighter, traverses a wider trajectory in the same direction and in the same time (50 years).”  The Dogon legend that Digitaria (“Po Tolo”) has a companion – Emme Ya – implies triplicity in the Sirius system (three stars orbiting one another other). In 1995 the astronomers D. Benet and J.J. Duvent of the European Southern Observatory published an article entitled “Is Sirius a Triple Star?”. Based on NASA Astrophysics data and computer simulations, they proposed the hypothesis of Sirius C orbiting Sirius A in a 6-year cycle. The scientific discourse on the triplicity of the Sirius system is not closed. The illustration on the left compares the Dogon legend to the astronomical hypothesis of Benet et al.
Nyan Tolo – a planet encircling Emme Ya? “The positions of this star would determine various rites…. Digitarius is the seat of the souls of all living beings or those to come. Yet, euphemistically, they are said to be in the water of family pools: the star throws two pairs of rays (male/female), which reaches the surface of the waters and captures the souls, and is … accompanied by a satellite which is called a star of women, nyãn tolo…” . To date the existence of such a planet can neither be confirmed nor rejected by astronomers. As one skeptical astronomer puts it: ‘By the time we confirm Sirius as a triple star with a planet in its orbit, I will be fully convinced.’
The Dogon legacy is one of the pearls in Africa’s cultural heritage. While some may see a need for additional validation, the current encounter of myth and measurement is intriguing enough to ponder the questions that it generates. Perhaps – one day – we’ll be smart enough to fully appreciate the knowledge and wisdom of indigenous people like the Dogon.
Joost de la Rive Box ©
On the author: Dr. Joost de la Rive Box (Development studies, UA, EU Netherlands) spent three decades doing fieldwork in Africa and worked with the Dogon people in 2009/10 on a project to strengthen their local cooperative systems (Caisses Villageois Bandiagara).
Sources and endnotes:
- Griaule Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. In: Journal de la Société des Africanistes, 1950, tome 20, fascicule 2. pp. 273-294; available on http://www.persee.fr/doc/jafr_0037-9166_1950_num_20_2_2611
- Robert K.G. Temple. The Sirius Mystery, 1977
- “LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars”, LIGO press release 16 October 2017, on http://www.ligo.org/news.php
- D. Benest, J.L. Duvent. Is Sirius a triple star? European Southern Observatory & NASA Astrophysics Data System – Astronomy and Astrophysics 299, 621-628 (1995).
- J.J. Hurtak, The Keys of Enoch, The Academy for Future Science, 1973
- Source: https://history.nasa.gov/SP-466/ch16.htm ↑
- Griaule, Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. 1950, page 282 ↑
- The Keys of Enoch, J.J. Hurtak, Key 215:53. ↑
- Griaule, Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius 1950, page 287 ↑
- Ligo press release 16 October 2017 (see sources above) ↑
- Griaule, Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. 1950, page 284 ↑
- Griaule, Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. 1950, page 288 ↑
- Griaule, Marcel, Dieterlen Germaine. Un système soudanais de Sirius. 1950, page 288 ↑