The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Village of Songo, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts. 


Oddly enough, despite being the subject of such long and rich research, study has concentrated upon a very few Dogon communities, and many have only recently if ever been visited by Western scholars (see Jolly 2004, Richards 2005). Instead, generalizations are extended to all Dogon from several villages located just east of the inland delta of the Niger River, in the buttes, arid plains, and cliffs generically known as Bandiagara. More fieldwork is called for, to determine to what degree these Dogon are similar to others living elsewhere. Indeed, recent work suggests the degree that practices vary from one Dogon community to another, and from one generation to the next in the same community (Richards 2005). Here is the densely packed village of Songo in Mali, lying between two rocky outcroppings (one seen, the other from which the photograph was taken). To what degree is Songo "typical” of Dogon communities? Long-term anthropological and art historical research could reveal the particularities of Songo, including its religious and political prominence as the location of an important male initiation site.