The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon togu na shelter, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


The details of male initiation and other important ritual and political affairs are discussed by Dogon men in the shade of a remarkable structure called a togu na, seen in the left center of this photograph. A togu na serves as “an archive of Dogon traditional culture” (Huet 1988), for it is in the cool recess of such a meeting house that men rest, chat, offer advice, settle disputes, and reach collective decisions about community welfare. In the past, the posts supporting a togu na were decorated with ideograms referring to ideals and relationships of Dogon society; nowadays most older figurative posts have been sold into the international art market, and new ones are usually made of mud-covered stone or undecorated wood. The roof of carefully layered millet stalks bespeaks community prosperity, while the orientation and other features of the structure are said to reflect Dogon cosmology.