The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Binu sanctuary, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.

 

The Promethean tale of the Nommo stealing a piece of the sun and eventually crashing to Earth is the basis for sacred activities concerning fertility and bounty, again according to cosmogonic myths recounted in the 1930s by Ogotemmeli to the French ethnographer Marcel Griaule. The structure seen here is a binu sanctuary, a center for veneration of ancient ancestors where Dogon make offerings to assure successful harvests. Among the paintings on the facade are three beasts: two spotted felines (leopards?) surmounted by an odd, open-mouthed animal head on whose long neck appears to be a zig-zag mane (partially obscured by a basket hanging on the wall). This is a depiction of a yo domolo, the object with which the Nommo is said to have seized a piece of the sun. The zig-zag pattern replicates the trajectory of the ark as it fell to Earth, and also refers to the serpent Lebe, protector of fertility (Roberts 1988).