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Mask Mythology Amongst the Dogon

Mask Mythology Amongst the Dogon

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MASKS
AND
0
er the years,
I
have had many op-portunities to see the performanceof masks that take place at the "end ofmourning," or darl~n, ceremonies of theDogon people of Mali, and to pursue themeaning and symbolism of these events.
I
have been able to study the masks, bothin the strictly regulated processions andIn the dances and mimes that take placein the public square. The masks appear~ndi\.~duallyr in groups of men wearingthe same type.Marcel Griaule recorded the firstcommentaries concerning Dogon masksinMnsql~t,~iogons (1938). The informationhe was given stemmed from whatthe Dogon call "front speech" (L~arolr~iefme, orgiri st]), which is an early stage ofknowledge given to children, circum-cised adolescents beginning their educa-tion, and, of course, to strangers. It con-sists of an anecdote or tale, such as ahunting or war story, that is purposelyenigmatic in form and is intended toawaken the curiosity of the listener.Since Griaule's initial publication, thestudy of Dogon cosmogony has necessi-tated a reconsideration of the subject ofthe masks. The Dogon classify cos-mogony as "clear speech"(;~ilrolrclair~~,rso rh!/ii or as "speech of the world"(~1nr01~
L~LI
IICIIII~L',
or
L~CIUIIO
It
is revealed tohighly instructed men and women, tothose in charge of a section of Dogonsociety, to initiates responsible for a cult,and to those who persevere in penetrat-ing more deeply into Dogon knowledge.According to interpretations begun asearly as 1946, masks, as well as the cos-tumes, ornaments, accessories, mimes,songs, rhythms, and dances that accom-pany them, can be integrated into thecosmogony, mythology, an~iistory ofthe Dogon. "The societv of masks,"
MYTHOLOGY
AMONG
THE
DOGON
Ogotemm6li told Griaule, "is the entireworld. And when
it
moves onto the pub-lic square it dances the step of the world,it dances the system of the world. Be-cause all men, all occupations, all for-eigners, all animals are carved intomasks or woven into hoods" (Griaule1948:179).The Dogon term irnirzrl, which is trans-lated as "mask," refers not only to theobjects made of carved and paintedwood or of plaited and dyed fibers, or thehuge wigs that entirely conceal thewearer's head. It also designates the cos-tume the dancer wears and the acces-sories he carries. As is generally the casein West Africa, the wearers of masksamong the Dogon remain mute, with theexception of the ritual shouts they voiceduring the processions.The term irnirla has still other mean-ings to its users. For example, the parti-cipants in the sigi ceremony, held everysixty years (see Dieterlen 197l:l-ll), arecalled "masks" although their faces re-
-.
main uncovered. They sing while theydance, wearing a special costume thatconsists of a bonnet, cowrie-shell vests,and other ornaments; those who partici-pated in the preceding sigi wear eirery-day garments. All males. from thosefifty-nine years old to the small boys whocan barely walk,Vake part in the pro-sessions and the d~ncesn the publicsquare, remaining in strict age order.
A$
"masks" they represent themselves,
that
is to say, the generations that hagflourished since the last sigi.Ne\v mask types such as "madan:t.,""tourist," and "policeman" were in-vented as people with new functions ap-peared in the Dogon area, but they
hav
been only temp~rary.~n contrast,
th
masks that are permanent, that are a13\vays included in each d~z~rln,re thosethat evoke niythic personalitiesevents. These are always described~rrelation to astronomy, as it is conceived.by the Dogon, and include ancestodanimals, plants, and even objects
thal
played an important role during the long:history of the plC1lnetand its occupants.;When seen in performance, the masks:bring to life "ancestors" that may be hu-:man, animal, or vegetal. In form the%resemble their subjects, seen from thperspective of the Dogon aesthetic.
Th4
colors with which they are painted, their;costumes, and their ornaments revealthe presence of the four basic elements."Black refers to "water," red to "fire,"-bvhite to "air," and yellow or ochre tq"earth." These "four things" (kize tray), asthe Dogon call them, are the "same"; thatis, they are the matrixes with which theCreator Amma brought the universe into1existence (Griaule
&
Dieterlen 1965:61)-For the Dogon, a mask that is notbrilliant colors
-
r not repainted if
4
had been carved and used for a previous;ilattla
-
s nothing but a piece of woodelegantly sculpted but devoid of life!witl-tput any
\.slue.'
Except for the ritual shouts they utter1to evoke the actions of the Fox, the maskjwearers rennain mute. Ne\,ertheless theywear
,I
long banci of
\\.bite
cotton cloth;k~iotted round their hips, the ends
of
 
,,hi;
:
rt'cli~ilnlo5t
~LI
LIlt'gr.0~1ncl; iiis
i';
hc
.
\-niI)~ii
it
<>rc:!
sp~~ecli,1i1ch ijra5pye..lt.~i men and \\-hich tlivir mvthicenitor, Xommo,
i17
Ihc easthl! torn
~,i
;
91, \\.(11.e betl~een is teeth \.\'itii l7is@ed toligue, in ttlc water
of
the fil-stnd.TGriaLilr. liar alreadp described thelynlbolis~~i
t
three t!,pes
of
Dogonflasks n terms of the ~FpernloStevel of
pgon
kno\\.ledge. Tlicse are the
kn~rtr~ir,
Imrr~ii
o,
and
siri~c'
masks (Figs.
2-4)
(~riaulel93S:170
i.,
596
if.,
587it). Each
of
tl~em efers to different stages of themsmogony, revealed either
L>\r
a
detail ofheir form or by the steps
of
theis as-rociated dances, ~vliichollo\v edch other
sfid
are accompan~ed by changes ofhythm. All three represent e\.ents that
Dok
place at the beginning
of
the crea-
tion
of
the universe
by
a single God,mma, \cha is immortal, orn~iipotent,
+
omnipresent. They refer to themovement that .Amma ilnpressrd
on
the@ar universe after lie created it, and$edescent of an "ark" containing allthat was to live on the Earth..:The
Xnii~rgo
mask represents themovement i~nposed p013 the unlx7erseAnma. "The trcnibling of its \vearerfsarm is the movement of.Amma's hands creating the \4~orld."6
&PIS
ti,
".4mma's door," representslmma "ope11" so that the totality of crea-tion can cnlerge from his breast, or"dosed," after he has finished his work.
me
siriye
mask represents the stars
in
great number, ~mpl\.ingnfinite multipli-cation andy~rgsvsting series of galaxies
and
t!izir mox-eme~its
n
space.
It
also re-fers
:.
Jgcl's journe!. bct\t.een Heaven
-
dnd
E.:~.th, %.hen 1e
\\,as
trying to iind aremedy for his incompleteness; to thedes~ent f Nommo's ark; and
to
the
many-storied family house, which shel-ler~ he ancestral altars and \\,hose ar-3it~cfure learly recalls the preceding
.
.
.
Wents.Until
this
point in the myth the EarthRas a hea\.enly body occupiecl hy onl!,One
of
Amma's creations, Ogo, who wasErn prematurely. Because
of
Ogo's in-completeness and his revolt againstAmma, he \vas loxvere~i rom his original!lutmn condition
2nd
tsa~~storn~e~intc, a-Wdruped, the Fox. The three masks
refer
to the habitation of the planet
by
Ogo's
celestial "brother," Nomrno, thegenitor of humanity; and
by
his
.w-
*ns," primordial ancestors of the pre--*tpeoples who came down in the ark
1
&
Dite
965165,
fig
48;
*Oin,
fig.
53;
438,
fig.
101).
MY
\kTii
research revealed the nature
??!
unction of various humans, anj-
-!!%ls,
and
plants that appear either dur-
-
1
SAWANA
ISAMO)
MASK
WOOD
PklNT
42
2cm
A-
THE METROPOLITHN MUSEUM OF
AF-
-~".
GIF!
OF
LESTER
WUNDE?l,^At,
6;"
&
isk
 
ing the stages of creation that followthese events, or in the course ot the ac-tual history of the Dogon.
I
give a fewevamples here of how they are repre-sented by the masks.Pullo,
the F~ilarri
When Griaule collected intormatinn onthe mask known
aspullo,
"Peul" or "Fu-lani" (Griaule 1938:569-72, fig.
150),
hisinformant described it in terms of "frontspeech,"
parole deface.
The real name otthis mask is
dyobi,
"the runner" (Fig. 5).It is always worn by very young menwho have just joined the society
ot
m'isks after leaving the retreat that fol-lows circumcision. The performer of thismask wears a white tunic and a cordaround his neck from which fibers hangto his knees. In one hand he holds agourd, in the other a lance; between hislegs is
a
small wooden i~orse. he
iiyobi
isthe first mask to appear after the drumcall. He does not dance, but rather runshere and there in disorder. Althoughkeeping to the edge ot the pertormancearea, he later rejoins the series ot othermasks that appear atter him in single file.The
if!i~~bi
epresents Ogo betare histransformation into the Fox. Althoughthe mask emphasizes his primar); intan-tileaspect, it also shows his characteristicindependencc. It refers to Ogo's tearingout a piece of his placenta that would be-come the ark; finding himself alone andincomplete; stealing seeds from Amma,which he put in a gourd, likewise stolen;holding a weapon; and riding a horse,thereby recalling the journeys he madebetween Heaven andEarth inanattemptto recover the rest of his placenta and his
T
--
'1
lost twin. The red fibers worn wi,h t~mask are the blood of the wounds
i
tlicted on Ogo
-
cut tongue, Wound,alarynx, and circumcised genitalswhen he attempted to expropriate
for
himself the souls of the Nommo
whd
was sacrificed; he was thus deprivedspeech and of his primordial androgmpAfter all these events, he was trans.formed into the Fox and condem. 2dGremain on Earth (Griaule
&
Die;erlei1a65:175-223;
225-384).
The knowlediithat Amma accorded Ogo in the begin.ning and never removed from him wouldbe transmitted to men on the divinationtableswhere they
is
ould read footprintso(the Fox's descendants. These are not,however, obligated to tell the truth.Various features of the
rlyobi
ma&evoke the status a111 life of the Fo
.
For
example, the
dyobi
comes and g0i.q;
he
ambles about in the fields without orderor any particular direction, or lines
up
with the procession of other masks.
Sq
ilarly, the Fox's di~inationables, drawqin the sand, are never oriented in a par;ticular direction. This is in contrast
to
buildings, furnishings, altars, and rockpaintings, which, whenever possible,are placed in accordance with the ;.~rd.n'il direction,.As sedentary farmers, the Dogon haveinserted a bit of irony in their first levelofinterpretation ot the
p~illo
mask. The
p~illo,
he young "Fulani nomad''herdsman, is like the Fox; he is withoilland of his own. Provided with
a
gourator carrying water and ~vith lance
for
attacking or detending himself, he
wan-
ders tirelessly, alone, irom pasture
land
to pasture land, lending his herd.
I
Walu,
flle A11fe1opc~
This antelope appears quite early inDogon cosmogony (Griaule
&
Dieterlen1?65:289, fig.
98).
1Valu
was born at thetime of the sacrifice of Nommo, thymythic genitor of humanity, which tookplace in the heavens.
W~7111
s the matend'support of one ot Nommo's spi::rualprinciples. His stoy continues on E'lrth.Amma made
i~'ll11i
responsible forwatching over the path of the sun, theFox's transformed placenta, which theFox is always seeking in order to takepossession of his female twin. Unable
to
attain the sun, the Fox plots his revengeon the antelope. He digs holes in theearth and lies in wait. Running from eastto west,
rualcl
falls into one of these holesand gravely wounds his feet. One ot thefirst ancestors, Dyongou Serou, triesheal him, but without much success,
PV~1lu
gets up limping. He tries to reachthe Blacksmith, the twin of Nommo, to
2
<
:;,'.\~;q
blj<S(J[jEH;,re=
-2:\.!
S,.i>.<.!
--
.
-
~,'
,1,,3CC[
.:;q.
.I
-
','
..
;
5.:
-
,
-
,',<
.
j'?
'3
-;
FIG
I
:u

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