The Dogon Tribe

Dogon man wearing a Yagule Mask
Dogon Yagule Mask

Dogon Tribe - Introduction

The Dogon people are an African tribe numbering between 400,000 and 800,000. These people of Africa live in the West African country of the Republic of Mali where they are one of its major tourist attractions. They are known for their amazing mask dances, incredible architecture, religious traditions, and wooden sculptures. On this page of Interesting African Facts we provide information on the Dogon people's history, religion, and what type of art they produce. This information is written for kids and adults.

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Dogon Tribe History

The ancient history and origin of the Dogon is not exactly known. It is probable that the Dogon people originated from many different peoples all fleeing Islamic persecution. The tribes oral history has been passed down from generation to generation and there are several variations pertaining to their origin. Based on the oral history it is believed that they came from the west bank area of the Niger River sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries AD. They eventually migrated west to what is now the country of Burkino Faso. They eventually fled Burkino Faso to avoid being Islamized. They fled to the rocky Bandiagara cliffs in South East Mali. There they created dwellings along the walls of a sandstone cliff which is about 90 miles long (150 kilometers) and reaches heights of 1,640 ft (500 meters). In this area they were well protected from their enemies and stayed isolated from the outside world for centuries. They had no contact with Europeans until the end of the 19th century, which is much later than most other areas of Africa.

Dogon Religion

Most Dogon people practice a religion that involves belief in certain supernatural beings (spirits) and ancestor worship. A small number of the Dogon tribe practice Christianity and a small number practice Islam. In the main Dogon religion Amma is the name of the main god. He is the creator, knows all, and is the master of life and death. Amma is the creator of three other supernatural entities who are listed below. In the Dogon religion there are also several other evil and well meaning spirits who live in the bush, trees, and other places.

Dogon Art

The Dogon tribes main art form is sculpture. For centuries they have created beautiful abstract wood sculptures. Dogon wood sculptures are the oldest surviving wood sculptures in the world. Some have been dated to well over 1500 years old. The sculptures are created primarily for religious purposes and have spiritual meanings. They are rarely created for public view. Common Dogon sculpture schemes are listed below.