The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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. 

The sacred story of the Nommo stealing a piece of the sun and the subsequent creation of the human world is dramatized by a Dogon religious society called Yona, or “ritual thieves” (Roberts 1988). Here an elder named Wagu Seru Dolo of Sanga village wears a yo domolo shoulder crook as he might when he and fellow Yona perform at the funeral of one of their number, or at the significant moments of the ritual calendar.  Yona are “thieves” because they re-enact the Nommo's defiant act, and others in preparation for their rituals; but paradoxically, they also reinforce the ideals of Dogon society as they enforce a code against theft and other crime. The ears of the crook’s animal head are carved as paired ancestors on this yo domolo, in a reference to enduring values.