|Dogon container / medicine pot
and information on Dogon sculpture
|This sculpture is a type of bowl used by hogons. According to Dogon tradition cups of this type were often sculpted for a hogon at the time of his
installation as a chief, priest and leader of a village or section of a village. Sometimes the cup or bowl used by his predecessor was transferred to him
ceremonially at this time. From a functional point of view these cups often serve as storage places for a variety of things including butter and tobacco.
They often depict the hogon seated on top of either a horse or a donkey. Oftentimes the animal depicted is difficult to discern stylistically. At a different
level of interpretation the seated figure represents not merely a hogon but rather the first hogon, i.e. Lebe, the first man who died and who introduced
death to mankind.
I currently do not have a Dogon container in my collection
Below are some examples for reference
|Lidded Container: Equestrian Figure, 16th–20th century
Wood, metal staples; H. 33 3/4 in. (85.73 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.173a-c)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
This elaborately carved, monumental container was used to hold food consumed during the investment rituals of
Dogon religious and political leaders known as hogon. Hogon are the high priests of the cult of Lebe, the first
Dogon ancestor to die, whose body was miraculously transformed into a snake after his death. Associated with
regeneration and renewal, the cult is charged with maintaining the earth's fertility and ensuring the protection and
well-being of Dogon society.
This vessel's large size and visual elaboration indicates the hogon's importance within the life of a Dogon
community. Its complex iconography can be interpreted using Dogon accounts of cosmology recorded in the early
twentieth century. At the apex of the vessel, a heroic equestrian figure represents the hogon. The horse is a
traditional indication of wealth, prestige, and social dominance, but in this context it also suggests the hogon's
symbolic place within the Dogon cosmic order. It equates the hogon with Nommo, the mythic being that transformed
itself into a horse to convey an ark carrying the eight primordial ancestors to earth. Two equine forms that support
the container reinforce the hogon's connection to this moment in creation. Multiple female figures ring the vessel's
base and originally surrounded the equestrian figure (only one remains at present), calling to mind the hogon's role
in promoting female fertility within the community.
|Metropolitan Museum of Art
Container (Aduno Koro) with Figures, 16th–19th century
Wood; L. 93 in. (236.22 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.255)
This monumental vessel, which is over seven feet long, was kept in the house of a lineage head in a Dogon
community. It was used during an annual ritual known as goru to hold the meat of sheep and goats sacrificed at an
altar dedicated to Amma the Creator and the family ancestors. Performed at the time of the winter solstice, the
ceremony represents the culmination of rituals that celebrate the all-important millet harvest, whose abundance will
support the family in the coming year.
Such works have been described as aduno koro, an "ark of the world" meant to represent the mythic ark sent by
Amma to reorganize and populate the world. The aduno koro displays a wealth of imagery relating to the Dogon
account of genesis. Holding the eight original human ancestors and everything they needed for life on earth, the
ark was guided by Nommo, the primordial being who created order within the universe. When the ark settled on the
ground, Nommo transformed himself into a horse and transported the eight ancestors across the earth to water,
where the ark floated like a boat.
In this example, the horse's head is fitted with a bridle, representing Nommo's transformation into equine form, while
the eight original ancestors are portrayed in two groups of four on the side of the vessel. The lizardlike creature
separating the ancestors represents ayo geu, a black crocodile who killed Nommo after he completed his task of
guiding the ark.
Dogon art presents a broad range of object types and styles. Among the human figures alone, some are well over life-size, while others are
barely a few inches in height. Their repertoire of gestures is also varied, and includes figures standing, kneeling, sitting, or riding, raising one
or both arms in a variety of poses, and holding or wearing articles related to their gender, age, occupation, or social status. In style they vary
from full-volumed, sensitively modeled sculptures that are highly descriptive in their details to works that are reduced to abstract geometric
shapes stripped of all but the barest references to human anatomy. The surfaces of Dogon sculptures also suggest that they are treated in a
variety of ways and may therefore have a range of meanings. While some works are smooth, oiled, and polished, others are thickly coated with
sacrificial materials, sometimes to the point of obscuring their sculptural form. The range of styles and imagery seen in Dogon sculpture
suggests that they embody richer and more varied references than the simple identification as images of Nommo would encompass. Even if
the ultimate meaning of Dogon art depends upon the concept of Nommo, as Griaule and Dieterlen and their followers propose, this meaning
can only be enriched by adding to it the many other levels of meaning that arise from the particular settings in which the objects are located.
The Dogon place wood figures depicting men and women on many different kinds of altars, most of which are dedicated to ancestors, either
real or mythical. Although figurative sculptures, called dege, are perhaps the most interesting types of Dogon art, varied in form and rich in
imagery, they are also among the least well documented. Few altars have been described in detail or illustrated; those that have been
described do not suggest any consistent pattern linking a particular style of figure or a specific posture or gesture with any one kind of altar.
There is also little information with which to identify the persons represented by the figures.
Each lineage possesses an altar containing figurative sculpture, which is dedicated to its founders and to subsequent members who have
died, known as vageu. In recounting the myth of the first person to die in human form, Griaule tells of how a wooden sculpture representing the
dead man was carved in order to provide a support for his soul and his vital force (nyama), which were released at his death. The figure was
placed on the man's rooftop terrace along with a pottery bowl for libations. As death spread throughout the land, similar figures and bowls were
placed on altars established by each lineage (Griaule, 1938: 171-72; Dieterlen, 1941: 18,22, 140; also Desplagnes, 1907:273). Photographs
and drawings of vageu altars show rather simplified, even cylindrical, stick like figures leaning against the wall of the shrine (Dieterlen, 1941:
pis. Vb and Vc, fig. 10). Along with the figures one also sees pottery bowls and small cups in which sacrificial liquids are offered to the
ancestors and small notched ladders so the spirits can climb to the rooftop altar; iron hooks (gobo), cylinders of red ocher, iron ornaments,
and pots of roots soaking in water are kept there also and are used in healing. Sacrifices are performed collectively on all these objects at
planting and harvest times, as well as by individuals who have inherited the souls of particular ancestors. The altars are kept in the ginna, or
lineage head's house, of which there are several in each village. An altar can be found on the upper story of the house, in a corner of the
living quarters, in the granary, in the courtyard, or even in a separate structure nearby (Paulme, 1940: 109-11; Dieterlen, 1941: 141-47).
Not all of a family's deceased members are commemorated on the vageu altar. The souls of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth
are considered dangerous, and the forces that cause such deaths are particularly contagious (Paulme, 1940: 531-36; Dieterlen, 1941: 195-
205; Ortoli, 1941). The souls of these women, called yaupilu (literally, "white women"), are enshrined in a separate sanctuary, usually in a cave
outside the village, and are cared for by a priest who is a skilled healer. Such a sanctuary contains the various pottery bowls, wooden sticks,
and staffs found on vageu altars, as well as anthropomorphic wood figures representing both men and women (Ganay, 1941: 132; Dieterlen,
1941: 199, pls. XIIIa XIIIb; Dieterlen, 1981: 16). Every year, sacrifices are made to this altar by those who have been cured of illnesses caused
by the spirits of the dead women, and the figures are completely smeared with the blood of the slaughtered sheep and goats.
While the vageu and yaupilu ancestors are actual deceased members of the family, the binu in whose shrines figure sculptures are also found
belong to the mythic era when humans were immortal (Dieterlen, 1941: 216—27; Ganay, 1942). Binu shrines or sanctuaries are separate
structures built in the courtyard of the ginna. Each one contains an altar on which the wooden figures are found, leaning against the wall of the
shrine. Small bowls, miniature ladders, iron hooks and bracelets, and L-shaped wooden domolo staffs are also placed in binu shrines
(Dieterlen, 1941: 220; Ganay, 1942: 13—14). The sculptures are often mentioned in the myths describing the ancestor's initial contact with his
clan, in which he provides a sculpture along with other objects as tokens of his alliance with his descendants (Ganay, 1941: 114, 123). The
sculptures on binu shrines take a variety of forms and sizes. Although in some cases they appear to be simple cylinders, in others they are
less abstract and have more varied and descriptive human and animal imagery (Ganay, 1942: 13-14; Gnaule and Dieterlen, 1986: 381-85,
484-85). The binu sculptures are said to represent either the binu himself or his first priest (Dieterlen, 1941: 220), but it has also been
suggested that they represent various aspects of Nommo, who is considered the ultimate source of the binu's spiritual force (Griaule and
Dieterlen, 1986: 381).
In addition to altars dedicated to the ancestors, some Dogon figures are placed on altars made to augment and strengthen a living individual's
personal force, or nyama. One such altar is the kutogolo, which is dedicated to a person's own head, ku, the seat of his or her thought and will.
The kutogolo consists of a ball of earth mixed with seeds into which iron hooks, clay pots, and occasional small wooden figures are stuck
(Dieterlen, 1941: 77-79, pi. XIc). The bala is an altar made for a left-handed person, who is believed to have special powers in his or her left
hand. These altars, too, are made of balls of earth into which small wooden figures, some of them with raised arms, are stuck along with iron
hooks and bracelets (Dieterlen, 1941: 83-84, pi. Xld; N'Diaye, 1972: n. 11). Both kutogolo and bala altars are kept in the niches in the facade
ofaginna, or in the corner of a storeroom. Some Dogon blacksmiths and hunters also have individual altars, which often include figurative
sculpture (Paris, Musee Guimet, 1959: 116; Dieterlen, 1965: 15).
Dogon rain-making altars, called andugo, have also been found with figure sculptures. The andugo are the focus of sacrifices to Nommo, who
as Master of Water is manifested in every body of water on earth, including the rain falling from the sky. These altars can be located on a
rooftop terrace, in a courtyard, on the outskirts of a village, or in a separate sanctuary; some are portable and can be carried to fields in
particular need of rain. The altars consist of a pile of ancient stone tools—"thunderstones" believed to have fallen from the sky—into which
iron hooks and wooden figures may be inserted. These figures are said to represent Nommo. Judging from examples in the few published
photographs and descriptions, they vary in size, style, and iconography; in one altar an androgynous seated figure and a figure covering his
face with his hands, as well as several others, were noted (Dieterlen and Ganay, 1942: 30-40, pi. III).
Source: Art of the Dogon, by Kate Ezra
A fantastic resource on the Dogon