The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Seru Kudjugo with yo domolo shouder crook, village of Sanga, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


Dogon culture, like that of all the world’s peoples, changes constantly to meet the needs of evolving circumstances. That such a perspective defies any notion of Dogon being “primitive” and “isolated” was made clear in a conversation with a gentleman named Seru Kudjugo of Sanga village, seen here. The author was conducting brief research about the Yona society of “ritual thieves,” and Mr. Kudjugo was identified as a knowledgeable person to interview. He kindly obliged, and is shown here explaining the iconography of a yo domolo shoulder crook; but in response to the author’s first questions, he left for a moment and returned with his well-thumbed copy of Marcel Griaule's classic study, Masques dogons (1938). He turned to the appropriate passages on yo domolo, and read them aloud as what he said was the “proper” explanation of the object as Griaule had recorded it decades earlier. Because Sanga has become a center for tourist activities, anthropologist Polly Richards (2005: 52) reports that “modifications” to masked performance and other cultural activities “have taken on a self-consciously traditionalist slant” so that tourists find what they seek.