Seasonal & funerary rituals : masked dance performances are held on the occasion of funerary rites and are governed by the « Society of the Masks ». It gathers all circumcised men, young and old. It has no architectural edifice where to practise its cult. Masks are « things » from the bush. Rites and sacrifices are performed in a cave outside the village. In mythical times, death did not exist. Men metamorphosed into serpents. Yet, after the breaking of a taboo, the Dogon were exposed to death. The Society of the Masks celebrates the cult of Dyongou Serou, the first ancestor who died in the form of a serpent. Death has ever since been transmitted to men through contagion. On the occasion of a funeral for a man, the masks leave their rock shelter and enter the village. They attract the deceased out of his house and towards sunset they return to the bush followed by his soul. Many visitors come and offer condolences to the family of the departed. Mock battles and dances are held around the clock. Songs retrace the deceased’s life story and exploits. Other songs refer to aspects of the local history of the village. Close relatives and visitors mime battle scenes in the village centre and on the roof terrace of the deceased. These battles are directed against the old Fulani enemy. They fire blank shots with locally made flint rifles and fight with spears, shields and lit torches. The echo of the cliff reflects back the gun detonations. The noise is ear-splitting and participants are shrouded in a cloud of gunpowder. Some of the personal belongings of the deceased are deposited on the roof terrace of his house. If he was an old war veteran, a life-size dummy dressed in military garb will be clearly visible from all around. His widows dance in front of the house entrance with broken gourds held up high above their heads. They will no longer be used for their husband’s meals. Some dignitaries and close parents climb on the roof and sacrifice a goat. In Koundou, a man castrates the goat, slits its throat and throws the corpse from the roof onto the ground. The purpose of the sacrifice is to help the deceased on his way to the hereafter. It is now the masked dancers' turn to climb onto the roof terrace and dance. They pay a last homage to the dead man and climb down. A close parent remains alone on the roof, kneels down, scratches the ground with his hands and throws earth over his shoulders. By doing so he is looking for the soul of the deceased that is to return in a baby still to be born. The transmission of the dead man's soul to a descendent, is a form of reincarnation. When grown up, the latter will make regular offerings to his dead parent on the ancestor altar. The world of the living is a dangerous and uncertain place. By taking care of his dead parent, the respondent will benefit from his support.


Dogon architecture - the ginna : The social structure of Dogon villages is based on descent groups. Patrilineal families are each headed by a patriarch whose authority extends over all family members. They live in compounds neighbouring the Ginna, the residence of the patriarch (Ginna Banga). It is the village founder’s house and the most senior member among his successors lives there. Large villages are divided into districts and each has its own Ginna, a two storied building with a façade showing rows of superimposed niches. The ancestor altar (Wagem) is located in a covered structure that gives onto the roof terrace: a set of bowls that serve as receptacles for the dead who come and drink there. It is a place where Ginna members commemorate the recently dead and distant ancestors who are long forgotten.


Malian traditional mud architecture


Rock art in Dogon country : The Sahara abounds with Neolithic rock engravings that display the fauna and the human activities of times past: wild animals, game hunting, pastoral sceneries, etc. Many books are dedicated to the subject. What is not so well documented, however, is rock art in Dogon country: the presence there of engravings and paintings from the Neolithic period has not been proved so far. They seem to belong to a much later phase. Figurative representations are hard to find. Most rock sites show geometric compositions and sometimes one can make out stylized human figures. But in absence of archaeological data for age determination, it is difficult to differentiate pre-dogon rock art from engravings and paintings that date from later times when invaders and indigenous populations were sharing a common territory. And what to say about their makers and about their ethnic affiliation? Also, the meaning and ritual use of these ancient rock sites has long been forgotten. Today, traditional rock painting is still alive: circumcision rites and mask rituals hidden from public view. This way we can make ourselves an idea in what context this art form is used. It now remains to be seen whether a discipline such as ethnoarchaeology would still be able to decipher the meaning of ancient rock art.