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)

Ancient ruins near Sanga, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.


In the 15th century, Dogon moved to their present territories from lands in what are now western Burkina Faso and perhaps northern Ghana (Ezra 1988). From around the 11th to the 15th centuries, some of these same places were inhabited by Tellem people, whom Dogon may have driven from their refuges in the Bandiagara Escarpment.  It is also possible that at least some Tellem and Dogon intermarried and were so allied to create a single culture in a complex history yet to be fully understood. As seen in this photograph taken near Sanga in Mali, ancient ruins are preserved in the caves and crevices of the Bandiagara cliffs, below which Dogon continue to build their own dwellings. Tellem used the caves for food storage, burial, and ritual purposes, as do Dogon; and it is often difficult to differentiate Tellem from Dogon architecture or material culture.