Dogon animal masks

Dogon "Dege - black monkey" mask
Dogon masks

There are nearly eighty styles of Dogon masks, and for the most part they all utilize the use of various geometric shapes in their design, independent of the
various animals they are supposed to represent. Most masks have large geometric eyes and stylized features and are often painted or colored with various
substances. The Dogon continue an ancient masquerading tradition called "Dama" which commemorates the origin of death. Dama memorial ceremonies
are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. In these ceremonies there are a large number of performers,
often a few hundred, and it is considered absolutely necessary to the ceremony. In the case of the dama, the timing, types of masks involved, and other
ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in locations only several miles distant. The masks also appear
during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of a male Dogon.

The better known Kanaga and sirige masks are followed in the dama ceremony by masks that evoke the behavior of some of the animals that inhabit the
regions where the Dogon live and hunt.

They include among others - antelopes, hares, lions, hyenas, cows, birds and monkeys.

According to Dogon beliefs, the monkey represents wild, uncivilized, dangerous, and antisocial behavior –  the direct opposite of their beliefs about  the
way a proper, solid, upstanding Dogon person is expected to behave. The Dogon utilize three types of monkey masks which are identified solely by their
color rather than their shape. For the Dogon, Dege is the black monkey, while the white monkey is known as Omono, and the red monkey is called Ko.

The myths of all may not be known, but it has been written in  that the black monkeys, Dege, are the "male villains of the bush." The black monkeys stand
for wickedness, gluttony and must not be emulated because it is the antithesis of the Dogon order (Sieber & Walker 1987, p. 134).

I have always liked the Dogon animal masks, and the monkey and rabbit masks have always been my favorite.
This particular mask stood out to me and I thought it was in good style and it has a nice presence to it. The mask appears to have some age to it, but as far
as exactly how old it is I am not sure. I especially love the small ears that are represented on this mask and they are initially what drew me to it.

Reference sources: The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa - by Michel Huet
Click on any image to see full size version
Examples of Dogon monkey masks for reference purposes.
There are examples of other types of Dogon animal masks under the monkey masks.
Mali, Dogon
H. 37 cm.
Paulme-Lifszyc expedition 1935
Musee de I'Homme collection

ON the occasion of dama, a ceremony marking the end of mourning, Griaule took a photograph of a dancer wearing a mask depicting a black monkey,
very similar to the one in the Musee de I'Homme collection. The dancer, leaning on a staff, stands apart from the other dancers in a melancholy pose. His
costume includes, besides the black raffia neck covering attached to the mask, trousers, bracelets, and ankle ornaments of braided fibers.
Even though it is referred to by the Dogon in the initiates' secret language as the ugly male from the bush, its appearance during the masked dancing is
accompanied by encouragement in the sigi language:

Ugly male of the bush sitting at the top of a tall tree Your stomach full of fruit all eyes are on you . . . the drum plays for you . . .

The small iron hook attached to the front of the mask is intended to be a receptacle for sacrificial blood. The libations of blood and millet beer, with
which it is saturated, have given it a crusty patina similar to that of certain figures.        F.N.

Published: Elisofon and Fagg 1958, fig. 20; Griaule 1947, fig. 19; Leiris 1936, p, 195, figs. 6, 7; Leiris and Delange 1967, fig. 304; Paris, Musee de
I'Homme 1965, p. 53, fig. 7; Radin and Sweeney 1952, fig. 1; Wingert 1970, fig. N12

From the book: African Masterpieces from The Musee de I'Homme
Mali, Dogon, Ireli village
Wood, fiber, paint
H. 40cm.
Dakar-Djibouti expedition 1931-1933
Musee de I'Homme collection

WHILE other white-monkey masks exist in collections, this mask is by far the most famous, most beautiful, and best documented example known. It was
collected in the village of Ireli by the Dakar-Djibouti expedition. We are extremely fortunate to have a photograph of it being worn in its place of origin which
gives us a sense of how it was meant to look (Griaule 1938, p. 46).

The Dogon have a vast array of animal masks which include different kinds of antelopes, rabbits, hyenas, lions, leopards, crocodiles, and three kinds of
monkeys—white, red, and black. In the early years of the century three to four hundred masks might dance during an important dama. At the time of
Griaule's visit in the 1930s, more than a hundred masks still participated in a great dama.

The Griaule expedition collected numerous animal masks from different Dogon villages, so that we can compare several examples of the same kind of mask
and begin to understand both the elements which define the type and the differences in aesthetic quality.

This particular mask is the work of a most sophisticated artist. He has reduced the lower face to a slightly concave plane on which the only features are two
holes which are the eyes. Curving forward above this face is the monkey figure, basically a round form atop an oval one. The arms and back encircle a
hollow to create a composition both tense and strong. No details intrude on the minimal and simple but tremendously three-dimensional sculpture in which
the holes and hollows are almost more important than the solid forms.

Published: Eiisofon and Fagg 1958, fig. 19; Griaule 1938, pp. 460-61; Griaule 1947, p. 29, fig. 20; Minotaure 1933, pp. 45^16; Paris, Orangerie
desTuileries 1972. fig. 169

From the book: African Masterpieces from The Musee de I'Homme
SALE N07845  AUCTION DATE 15 Nov 02 10:15 AM.

New York

LOT 31

Property from a European Private Collection

ESTIMATE 10,000—15,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   11,352 USD

height 13 1/4in. (33.7cm.)

of hollowed dome-like form, the flat jaw supporting a broad tripartite mouth beneath a sloping facial plane comprised of three vertical ribs framing the inset
pierced square eyes, two holes at the cheeks for the insertion of a bite-stick(?) beneath c-shaped ears on the sides; exceptionally fine and encrusted
greyish brown patina.

Pierre Harter, Paris

Cf. Vogel and N'Daiye (1985: 26 and 123, figure 16) for a closely related example of a `black monkey' mask in the collection of the Musée de l'Homme.
I could not find an example of a "Red monkey mask", but I am looking.

Below are examples of other types of Dogon animal masks for reference purposes.
A photograph of the Dogon masks on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY that I took in May 2005. You will see a
white monkey mask on the far right, a rabbit mask on the left and I am not sure what the one on the very far left is? I will
have to look into it.
Mali, Dogon Wood, paint, fiber H. 35 cm. (mask only) Colonial Exposition 1931
Musee de I'Homme

ON the night of July 7, 1931, a gala soiree was held as part of the Colonial Exposition that had opened earlier that year. According to the evening's
program, which survives in the archives of the Musee de I'Homme, before midnight when the audience took to the dance floor, there was a series of African
performances more entertaining than ethnographic. Dogon dancers brought to Paris for the occasion performed "La danse de betes qu'on appelle
sauvages" presumably using animal masks. After the soiree the masks that had been used were acquired by the museum—this rabbit mask among them.
Despite its unconventional source, the mask is traditional in form and shows a sprightly invention. Because the mask had been used recently, its fiber hood
was still intact, permitting us to imagine how all Dogon masks once looked. The color and texture of the hood combine with those of the mask to give it
animation and spirit. The classical Dogon face is here topped by a large pair of rabbit ears which also serve as the ears of a much smaller and more
naturalistic rabbit face emerging over the forehead of the first. The carefully applied paint acts almost like camouflage, disguising the shift from plane to
plane, and creating a unified, vibrating surface.

Published: Griaule 1947 pi. 21; Leiris and Delange, 1967, fig. 286

From the book: African Masterpieces from The Musee de I'Homme
Mali, Dogon, Ibi village
H. 45 cm.
Third Griaule expedition 1935
Musee de I'Homme

FOR the great ceremonies that mark the essential moments of life in Dogon villages, members of the men's society, owners of the masks, come out to
dance. During these ceremonies for the end of mourning or dama, and for the ritual of sigi, celebrated only once every sixty years, the masks are danced
before initiates, and their movements are said to imitate the movement of the world itself. In Masques dogons (1938, p. 509) Griaule recounts the myth of
the creation of this mask, which is worn horizontally in Ibi village: "As they were placing the fibers in the mud of a swamp to blacken them, the men of
Touyogou caught sight of the crocodile who came habitually to dig up the fibers and eat them. The men killed the crocodile and carried it away. Later, they
carved a mask in the image of the head, to protect the slayer and his lineage from the crocodile's spirit." This account reflects the reasons for the invention
of all masks: to provide material sup¬port for the soul of any living being that dies, to protect it from injury.

Other versions of this crocodile mask exist, though they are dramatically different: the accent is placed on the jawbones and the teeth made of porcupine
quills, and the eyes are executed not as yawning cavities but as projecting cones. This mask, however, is unlike any other, and is a perfect example of the
freedom with which the creator of a mask may interpret the myth, unless the artist presents the mask dancers with a sculpted object, and the dancers then
name it and integrate it into the myth.   F.N.

Published: Brest 1978. fig. 2; Griaule 1938, p. 508; Marcq-en-BaroeuI 1979, fig. 7; Toulon 1980, fig. 13

From the book: African Masterpieces from The Musee de I'Homme
SALE N07996  AUCTION DATE 14 May 04 10:15 AM.

New York

LOT 33

Crocodile mask? by Rand) MASK

ESTIMATE 20,000—30,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   42,000 USD

height 13in. 33cm

aio, of hollowed form and pierced around the rim for attachment, the raised, diamond-shaped facial plane with a tri-partite ridge framing the square eyes,
the domed crown with demilune ears bisected by a medial ridge; varied and encrusted medium to greyish brown patina.

René Rasmussen, Paris

Langlois Collection, Paris

Merton D. Simpson, New York

Donald Morris Gallery, Detroit and New York

Morris Pinto, New York

Sotheby's New York, November 20, 1990, lot 41

Cf. Leloup (1994: 563) for a related mask and Bastin (1984: 64, figure 9) for a sketch by Griaule in Masques Dogon (1938) of another related mask.
SALE N08132  AUCTION DATE 11 Nov 05 10:15 AM.

New York

LOT 41


ESTIMATE 2,000—3,000 USD
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   4,500 USD

height 46in. 116.8cm

walu, the rectangular facial plane bisected by the thin, straight nose, the square eyes beneath the overhanging brow with pointed ears and tall spiral-
incised horns; weathered golden brown surface with areas of black pigment.

Harry A. Franklin Family Collection, Beverly Hills
Acquired from Sotheby's New York, April 21, 1990, lot 29

Santa Barbara, The University of California, The Art Galleries, African Art of Transformation, November 24 - December 20, 1970
Hanover, New Hampshire, The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Curator's Choice, January 2 - March 10, 1991
SALE PF3015  AUCTION DATE 05 Dec 03 2:30 PM.


LOT 103


ESTIMATE 7,000—12,000 EUR
Lot Sold.  Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium:   7,200 EUR

haut. 75 cm

Masque d'antilope walu, de structure géométrique classique. Les grands yeux évidés en triangles inversés encadrent un long nez qui présente la
particularité d’être ajouré. La bouche, ronde et protubérante, est prolongée par la corde qui permettait au porteur de maintenir son masque. Le décor
champlevé est à motifs de triangles inversés. Traces de pigments noirs et de kaolin dans les creux du visage.

Mask antelope walu, of traditional geometrical structure. The large hollow eyes in reversed triangles frame a long nose which has the effect of being
openwork. The mouth, round and protuberant, are prolonged by the cord which made it possible the carrier to maintain its mask. The champlevé
decoration is with reasons for reversed triangles. Traces of black pigments and kaolin in the hollows of the face.

Ce masque est accompagné d’un certificat de la galerie Ratton-Hourdé, Paris

This mask is accompanied by a certificate from Galerie Ratton-Hourdé, Paris.
Dogon masks from the Sangha Region

In Dogon territory, the period between the death of a man and the end of the mourning ceremonies which close the funeral cycle is quite a long one. If
the deceased had held an important social or religious position, or had attended the Sigui sixtieth birthday ceremonies either in his own village or in a
neighboring region, then after the 'first funeral' the family will accumulate goods that can be exchanged to enable them to organize a dance. This ritual
preparation period for the 'departure of the deceased man's soul' is considered dangerous for the deceased's own family and, by extension, the whole
village. Numerous taboos are therefore enforced on them, while the homeless soul roams through the village, haunting the various places he once

The function of the dama, apart from raising the taboos, is to master this secret force that emanates from the deceased and direct it through the
medium of masks to the sacred places where it will in some way or another be fixed. At the end of the dama the deceased will belong to the ranks of
ancestors. It is through them that the word of Amma, the Creator, will be transmitted again in all its vital force to mankind, fertilizing the fields and making
fecund the women and the cattle.

This recreation of an order that has been disturbed by death involves a wide display of symbolic practices: the deploying of masks, songs, music and an
abundant consumption of food and millet beer. Sometimes the dama may last as long as six days.

The beginning of the dama preparations is announced by the sound of the rhombe, which is a wooden or metal saw-edged plate whirled round at the
end of a rope by one of the initiates. The humming sound of this instrument is regarded as the voice of the very first ancestor.

From that moment, the circumcised members of the Awa — a mask society—repaint or carve afresh the masks that they will wear. This takes place
away from the village, in rocky shelters or in the bush. The hoods and the short skirts for the costumes are made from the bark of the polio tree, and the
long skirts from sanseviera fibers. These are plaited and dyed black, red or yellow. Cowries and various other ornaments are fixed to the hoods and the

When the masks emerge from the secret places where they have been fashioned, their arrival is announced in the village and the women and children
take shelter in their huts, since the members of the Awa are not indulging in a gay masquerade. They are actors in a cosmic theatre, aiming to recreate
the creation of the world, of men, of vegetable and animal species, and of the stars. What is happening is that this period of danger and disorder that
has been brought about by the death is now brought to an end by the evocation of the fundamental moments in the genesis of the universe. The
audience, enthusiastic but solemn, watches with great attention the development of the different stages in the ritual.

At the dama of a spiritual chief or a village notable, the place where the sacred dances are held is invaded by an impressive number of different masks.
Of these the most numerous and the most symbolic are the kanaga and the sirige masks.

The kanaga is topped by a short pole to which two parallel blades are fixed perpendicularly. Two small flat boards are placed at their ends, upwards for
the upper blade, downwards for the lower blade. The face of the mask is partly encircled by a crest of very stiff fibers, dyed either red or yellow.

To the uninitiated, this mask evokes a bird spreading its wings. For those who have attained analogical knowledge through initiation, it is the symbol of
man, axis of the world, pointing to both earth and sky. Another interpretation links kanaga to the water insect which, at the birth of the world, implanted
in the soil the first seed from which all other seeds and all human archetypes sprung. And the flat, crushed shape of the pole of kanaga evokes the fall
of the first trouble-maker, Ogo, the pale fox.

All these variations are included in one of the figures of the dance. The dancer, with a rapid movement of the upper part of the body, sweeps the mask
close to the ground, thus evoking the internal vibration that animates the matter created for Amma.

The sirige mask has a rectangular face divided by a vertical ridge with two hollowed spaces. It is topped by a huge blade, sometimes nearly fifteen feet
high. This blade, which is alternately painted and pierced, shows patterns of parallel lines and opposing triangles. Sirige means 'storied house', and
several meanings are concentrated into this term. There are the different stages of creation, the degrees severing the earth from the sky, the curve of
the arch, the genetic sequence and also, in the vertical parallel lines, the frontage of the ginna or 'family house', representing by analogy the vast
human family.

After a few steps, and following a rapid change in the drum rhythm, the sirige mask-wearer kneels towards the east. Then he moves the top of his body
backwards and forwards, forcing the extreme end of the blade to touch the ground, and thus marking the limits of the horizon and the cardinal points. As
he raises himself up, he creates whirling horizontal motions with the mask which suggest the evolution of the sun around the earth, analogous to the
universe being created by the rotation of the divine axis.

Kanaga and sirige are followed by masks that are more familiar to the uninitiated, since they are made in accordance with a less abstract concept.
These masks evoke the behavior of some of the animals that haunt this part of the bush, encompassed by a loop in the River Niger. They include,
among others, antelopes, hares, lions and monkeys. Other masks mime the behavior of various Dogon social characters. There is the 'old man' mask,
the young girl, with a face made from cowries and breasts of baobab fruits, the 'ritual thief, and the masks of caste such as the 'blacksmith', the 'shoe-
maker' and so on. Foreigners, too, are represented in this vast pageantry. There is the mask of the ‘Peul woman', characterized by the headdress
peculiar to this ethnic group; the mask of the ‘Bamana woman’, and others. Sometimes there is even the ‘Missus’, or white woman mask, and that of the
‘Dokotor’, the ethnographer.

M. Griaule, Masques dogon, Institut d'ethnologie, Paris, 1938
J. Laude, African Art of the Dogon, Viking Press, New York, 1973

The wonderful book - "
The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa" by Michele Huet
An old photograph of a Dogon dama celebration with a Sirige mask in the middle from the book - "The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa" by Michele Huet
An old photograph of a Dogon dama celebration from the book - "The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa" by Michele Huet
Click on the link below to go to a website that has a lot of interesting photos
of Dogon people, masquerades and the area where the Dogon people live.
Photo source: Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
The are LOTS more in the archives