The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon garden with checkerboard pattern, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


The same checkerboard is found in mundane circumstances, lending them the significance, authority, and meanings of divine order demonstrated in other circumstances. Here a garden has been created next to a river, to grow onions for regional markets. Dogon have become locally famous for their onions, as they have developed a cash crop either introduced to them or promoted by the French anthropologist Marcel Griaule. Theirs is an extremely arid land, and not a drop of water is to be wasted. A farmer has carefully created a grid of stone walls to conserve water he carries in watering cans from the river, and to catch any rare rain. Such a practical task could have been achieved in any number of ways, but this Dogon farmer has chosen to replicate the sacred checkerboard as both a useful and religiously appropriate manner.