The Dogon are a people of Mali, in West Africa. They occupy the Dogon Country region, which extends from the Bandiagara escarpment to the southwest of the Niger loop.
The Dogon are above all cultivators (mainly millet) and blacksmiths. They are famous for their cosmogony and their sculptures. Their spoken language is Dogon, which groups together several dialects. There is also a secret language, the Sigi so, a language reserved for the society of masks. The Dogon are linked to the Bozo ethnicity through “joke kinship” (called sinankunya in Mali). Dogon and Bozo laugh at each other, but at the same time, owe each other mutual assistance.
According to their oral tradition, the Dogon would have left Mandé, a region located in the south-west of Mali, between the eleventh century and the thirteenth century and would have immigrated to the mountains. Two explanations have been put forward to justify this departure from their region of origin: to avoid Islamization or a lineage quarrel. The first reason, perhaps, has led to the second. Therefore, they would have settled in Kani Bozon before dispersing to three sites: the Falaise de Bandiagara, the plateau, and the plain. The Sangha cliff was inhabited by the Tellem, which means “we found them there,” also bearing the name of Kurumba. According to the Dogon, the Bana preceded the Tellem, and they would be the Toys.
Even if they have long suffered the domination of various peoples who have created great empires or kingdoms, the Dogon have always known how to retain their independence because of the difficulty of accessing their isolated mountainous territories. The Dogon fought fiercely against the Mossi at the time of the Songhai empire, then against the Peuls. The Dogon and the Soninke are very close; the Dogon were sometimes influenced culturally and linguistically by the Soninkés, some of whom mixed with the Dogon during their excellent dispersion after the Ghana Empire’s fall.
Dogon has often been called a unique language. There are at least five separate groups of dialects. The oldest dialects are Dyamsay and Tombo. Dyamsay is the most frequently used for traditional prayers and ritual songs. The Dogon language family is very diverse internally, and many varieties are not mutually intelligible, representing some 12 dialects and 50 sub-dialects. There is also a secret ritual language Sigi so (Sigi language), which is taught to the dignitaries (Olubar) of the mask Society during their introduction with the Sigui ceremony.
The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, mask dances, wooden sculptures, and architecture. Since the twentieth century, there have been significant changes in the Dogon’s social organization, material culture, and beliefs, in part because Dogon country is one of Mali’s major tourist attractions.