The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon ideograms painted on the wall of a rock shelter in the Songo region, high in the Bandiagara cliffs, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.

The Yona Society remains important to the spiritual life of Dogon living along the Bandiagara Escarpment of Mali, and its rituals are a complement to other important moments in religious life such as male initiation. We see here a portion of the wall of a rock shelter high up in an outcropping near the town of Songo. The paintings are a mnemonic system used to teach and remind young men about the enduring principles and relationships of their culture (cf. Roberts and Roberts 1996). They are repainted each time initiation is held, and while some appear to be new, others are documented in the 1930s occupying the exact same places (Griaule 1938). Prominent among the symbols is one depicting a man holding a shoulder crook, in probable reference to the yo domolo crooks that are emblematic of Yona “ritual thieves” (Roberts 1988).