The Great Mask : This mask is made once every 60 years on the occasion of the "Sigui". This ritual lasts seven years. It starts at Yougo Dogorou and moves alongside the escarpment to the southwest. A long time ago the Sigui came to an end on the plateau at the village of Songo. This was no longer the case in 1972 when Jean Rouch, for the purpose of his documentary, filmed Amadingue Dolo (late chief of the masks) and Diangouno Dolo (late chief of Sangha) ending the ritual at Songo.

     The Great Mask is carved from a single piece of wood and measures several metres in length. It looks like a plank with a mask sculpted at its lower end. It is not meant to be worn.

      Before, according to Dogon myths, death did not exist. Instead, men metamorphosed into serpents. Yet, after the breaking of a taboo, the Dogon were exposed to death. The Great Mask represents the first ancestor who died in the form of a serpent. Its elongated form looks like a serpent. It is the receptacle of the ancestor's soul.

     Every 60 years a new Great Mask is sculpted in replacement of the previous one. On this occasion, the dignitaries of the Society of the Masks teach a few previously chosen young men the secrets of the cult. They are present during the carving of the Great Mask and they have to learn Sigi So, the secret language of the Sigui. After having completed their initiation, they will replace the previous Olubaru initiates.

     The Dogon who follow the rituals of the Society of the Masks possess a shelter near to their village where the Great Masks (old & the last to date) are stored. In 1930 Marcel Griaule counted nine Great Masks in the village of Ibi. It means that the beginnings of the Sigui cult in this particular village go back to the 14th century (9 masks x 60 years = 540 years).



   
great masks
 
great masks
 
great masks

 

      The Great Mask leaves its shelter on the occasion of a funeral to be held for an important dignitary only (i.e. Olubaru). A hole is made in the roof of the house of the deceased and the mask is placed through it. The upper part of the mask can be seen from far away (see photo above). The mask so displayed is the one which was carved in the presence of the deceased when he was still an "Olubaru to be" at the last Sigui.



   
sangha : bongo - great mask
 
sangha : bongo - great mask
 
great masks

 

      Most ethnographic literature translates "Great Mask" as Mask Imina-Na. However, Imina-Na is the name given to the "voice" of the Great Mask and not to the wooden structure itself ("Masques Dogons - M.Griaule" - page 250). The voice of the mask is a rope with two wooden or metal pieces attached at one end. By making it whirl above one's head, the Imina-Na makes a sound resembling the mask's voice. Depending on the region, the exact name is either Wara or Dannu. Originally the Dannu (a wooden pole) and the Buguduru (a cone of clay) form the stand against which the Wara leans ("Masques Dogons - M.Griaule" - page 745). With time passing, a number of villages abandoned the carving of the Wara and replaced it with the Dannu.

 

 

see :

  • Polly Richards " Imina Sana : (masques la mode)" - A study of Dogon Masquerade at the Turn of the Millenium 1994-2000 - pages 132/207
  • Marcel Griaule "Masques Dogons"
 
       
imina-na : the voice of the great mask