By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Mali and Burkina Faso; Dogon peoples

Ancestor couple


H. 75 cm (30")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.356

Like many peoples around the world, most Africans think of the family as a unit that includes the living parents, children and grandparents. For many Africans, however, the family also includes the spirits of the ancestors and of infants not yet born. As a result, the ability to have children may be traced back to a primordial couple--the earliest ancestors and first humans to give birth.  These may be semi-mythical characters who first established essential social values, or they may be very specific ancestors whose names are preserved in the oral histories of the lineage.  This figure pair from the Dogon represents the primordial couple of a clan or lineage, and the linking of male and female to create new life--the man’s arm over the womans shoulder is a clear expression of this bond.