Adult Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Yona society member with yo domolo shoulder crook. Dogon peoples, Mali, 1988. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts. 

Earliest learning is superficial, as we all know from our own schooling. From then on, individual Dogon boys will acquire esoteric understanding from their parents and other wise people. Some young men will eventually attain ritual office through particular initiation, while others will participate in collective rituals culminating in the “Pellucid Word,” understood as “the edifice of knowledge in its ordered complexity” (Griaule and Dieterlen 1986: 70). In their initiation and subsequent rituals, Yona society members like this Dogon man reenact the origins and totality of this deep philosophy, yet they do so with regard to issues and objectives of contemporary life. Continuity and change are always at play, in other words. The man's sculpted shoulder crook seen here portrays the theft of a piece of the sun by a nommo (primordial being) through which fire was introduced as the origin of human culture (Roberts 1988).