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)

Dogon dwelling, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.

Among the reasons that Dogon people and culture have been so attractive to researchers and tourists are the very inaccessibility and ruggedness of their homelands. Their adaptation to an extremely arid climate includes an architecture that seems to and sometimes does blend into the rocky cliffs themselves. Dogon have been miscast as "primitive" by romantic observers who see in Dogon culture hints of ancient times when "cavemen" roamed the Earth. Nowadays, a portion of the flourishing tourist trade is composed of New Age adepts and others seeking “primal” experience. It is both wiser and fairer to Dogon themselves to try to understand Dogon culture on its own terms (Hoffman 1993). The dwelling shown here provides its inhabitants secure shelter and cool refuge from intense heat. Stone walls are overlain with mud plaster that dries cement-hard, making practical use of local materials.