The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon woman inspecting a basket in the marketplace at Songo, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


Dogon markets such as this one in Songo, Mali, are occasions for both business and pleasure. Here a woman carrying her inquisitive baby on her back carefully inspects a large basket made and sold by the young man with a tasseled cap. The vessel will be used for food preparation, storage, and other household purposes. Dogon baskets are an example of appropriate technology, for they are made from locally available materials such as stout straw that is carefully bent and tied with fiber string made from the inner bark of baobab trees. Inspection of the inside of the baskets reveals that olive-colored baobab leaves are wrapped around every other straw shaft. These swell to produce a watertight vessel preventing loss of precious liquids, if, for example, a damp substance such as fermented millet is placed in the basket during beer-brewing.