The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon farming near the village of Sanga, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


The Dogon checkerboard can be a kinetic symbol as well, for it can be danced or otherwise acted out to bring a sense of divine order to both ritual and everyday affairs. Here young people are tilling the sandy soil just adjacent to Sanga village in Mali on the day after the first rains of 1986. Dogon suffered mightily from the terrible drought that afflicted the Sahel in 1984, and when rains began in 1986, they expressed great relief and hope that this would be a bountiful year. The young people are following a choreography called by the woman second from the right.  Following her cadence, they strike the ground to dig in the carefully collected fertilizer seen piled in the foreground, and to prepare for planting millet; but they do so in a manner that Dogon say produces the desired sacred checkerboard pattern (Griaule 1970).