The Dogon of Mali, Africa

Hogon's Red Hat Represents the Sun"Hogon" by Senani P at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - By Senani P at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, lightened and resized

Griaule recorded the Dogon religion at a time when the Dogon were one of the last people in Africa to come under French rule. Prior to that time, the isolated Dogon had maintained their own beliefs and religious practices. Because the Dogon had been secluded, they were considered by the Europeans to be the most backward race in the whole region and the best example of ďprimitive savageryĒ known to the world. Muslim Africans also shared this view, as neither group could comprehend the Dogon traditions. Conversations With OgotemmÍli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. Marcel Griaule. Oxford University Press, London for the International African Institute, 1965.p.1

Griaule established his relationship with the Dogon people during field trips which began in 1931.Griaule. p.XV After years of questioning the Dogon elders about their religion, he was finally admitted to the Dogon religionís innermost teachings. Dogon elder OgotemmÍli was chosen to present the secret knowledge to Griaule. This was done in thirty-three days, which began in October of 1946.Griaule. p.XVI

OgotemmÍli was considered one of the most powerful minds on the Cliffs of Bandiagara in Mali where the Dogon lived. OgotemmÍliís grandfather had initiated him into the mysteries of the Dogon religion when he was fifteen and after his grandfather had died; his father had taken over the instruction. According to Griaule, OgotemmÍliís total initiation had gone on for more than twenty years.Griaule. p.14

It was because of OgotemmÍli, that Griaule recorded the religion so accurately. Because it is a mystery religion, the Dogon religion can only be fully understood by identifying the repetition in its symbolic patterns. When the religion was created, its continuity was established through its symbolism rather than through its chronology. Without the symbolic consistency, it would have been impossible for me or any other researcher to approach an understanding of it. It appears that the religion was deliberately created this way to protect it from outside influence. My research indicates the Dogon religion was one of the early mystery religions thought to have been lost to humanity.

The unique structure of this religion suggests it was created in an oral culture. This is why it has been so difficult for researchers to understand it. Because we live in a written culture, its symbolic composition is foreign to our way of thinking. The fact it took someone as intelligent as OgotemmÍli over twenty years to learn his own religion attests to its complexity. It is not an easy mythology to understand, but it is without a doubt the most significant mythology recorded to date. It is because the Dogon insisted on clinging to their traditions that the truth about human existence has been preserved for us. The ancient stories told by OgotemmÍli had been passed on from generation to generation throughout the ages. I believe it is the oldest and most complete oral source document known to history. In his book, Conversations with OgotemmÍli, Griaule admitted he didnít really understand a lot of the religion he recorded and conveyed to the world. He simply told it as OgotemmÍli had told it to him. This is one of the reasons why his record is so significant. It is a historical account, for the most part, free of personal bias. Dorey, The Master of Speech, p.11

Another important aspect of the account is that OgotemmÍli was blind. He was one-eyed from childhood and became totally blind later in life as a result of an accident.Griaule. p. 2 Everything he told Griaule came from history and his memory. Nothing was influenced by changes that he might have seen in later days in the Dogon village.

Careful analysis of this mythology shows that it is the key source from which other religions, including Christianity, have evolved. It provides humanity with the sought-after missing link and answers to questions that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time.