THE DOGON TRIBE OF MALI: AFRIKA’S ANCIENT ASTRONOMERS
The Dogon are an agrarian, patrilineal people group who live in present day Mali. Forced into their current location due to attacks faced from another community, they settled and built against the natural fortifications of the Bandiagara escarpment, while enjoying access to fresh, clean water from a source nearby. As they grew in number, they ran out of space to build on the escarpment and expanded to the plains below.
Way of life
The Dogon mainly practice agriculture, farming mainly millet and trading with their neighbors around them, such as the Fulani. They grow other crops and also hunt, work with leather, wood and metal. They lived and continue to live in relative isolation to the rest of the communities around them. Resisting the influences of Islam and Christianity and – for the most part – holding on firmly to their own traditional practices for the most part.
The Dogon have a very structured society that is carefully delineated along the lines of gender, spiritual roles and societal transitions. They are a patriarchal, polygamous
culture with wives of Dogon men only moving into their marital homes after they produce a child which marks them as being ‘officially’ married. The Dogon are said to leave a child behind when they leave to ‘make up for’ their departure. And also to give away children to those who do not have, saying that children always belong to them anyway.
The Dogon have a spiritual leader called the Hogon, who is usually the oldest and most respected male. He provides guidance and wisdom from the ages, which has been passed down from generation to generation.
The Dogon live aware that there is both good and bad in everything and everyone, so they watch all things closely to ensure that the bad does not overbalance. Words are carefully measured, accusing one’s neighbor falsely is taken very seriously. The men gather together in a Toguna to discuss matters pertaining to the society. This is a hut that has a roof that is too low for one to stand up straight in, to discourage violence if a disagreement breaks out. Women are not allowed to participate in spiritual or political activities.
Many of the Dogon huts built almost flush against the Bandiagara escarpment, designed to allow them live in harmony with their environment, color and design blending in with the background, flat rooftops offering cool sleeping in the hot season and harvests protected from the elements under their thatched roof granaries.
It is said that the arrangement of their houses in their villages is meant to represent a human body lying down. The toguna, where the men meet to parlay is the head of the body. It is the most important building and is even the first building that is built in a village. Its roof is made of layers of millet representing the cliffs the plains and the plateau.
The Dogon structures also meet the requirement for balance and symmetry and come in a male and female granary with elaborate doors that have carvings representing each family’s history.
The Dogon practice circumcision on both men and women. They say that men were born with a dual nature and that removal of the foreskin eliminates this duality, preserving the purer nature. They view the clitoris as a male organ and they remove it in its entirety during female circumcision.
Knowledge of Astronomy
The Dogon have confounded western astronomers with their knowledge of the Sirius Star. They revealed to French astronomers their knowledge that Sirius is made up of three stars, and that one of them revolves around the other in a cycle of fifty years. While the westerners say they have not found the third star, they say it is impossible that the Dogon could have acquired this information without external assistance and support because the star is too far to see with the naked eye.
Not only that, the Dogon knew about Sirius B and its orbit around Sirius A thousands of years before western astronomers found out about it. The Dogon say that they received this information from visitors from Sirius, who arrived in a vessel that made much noise.
These visitors are tied closely to the origin and creation beliefs of the Dogon. They are also connected to their spiritual practices and renowned mask dances that they carry out in various seasons.
Dogon priests are exclusively male and use a distinct language that only they are allowed to learn. The priests wear or carry masks which are used for special ceremonies. The Dogon communicate with the gods through a mixture of sacrifices, divination and purification rites. These are performed by Binu priests who are said to share a special relationship with the gods – and through the Hogon.
Many of the sources studied for this piece suggest that the western astronomers believe that the Dogon had some connection with Egyptians at some point, explaining their understanding of complex astronomy, but that to me sounds like another attempt to explain away knowledge and understanding that Afrikans had that the white man could not explain.
It seems to be a case of ‘you don’t seem good enough to know what you know, there must be another explanation that in our eyes seems great enough’. And even at that, the ancient Egyptians are also Black Afrikans. Whatever the case may be, it is necessary for Afrikans to now carefully consider what they had before colonialism, present it before God and ask Him what He thinks instead of simply dismissing it as backward or limited in some way. What do you say?