The Dogon and Malian Uses of Griaulian Ethnology

(IRD - Institut des mondes africains)


(CNRS - Institut des mondes africains)

Touriste photographiant des masques lors d’un festival touristique en pays dogon (© Anne Doquet)

Touristic dances in the village of Iréli, in December 2006.

Often criticized for compromising with colonialism, early French ethnologists took advantage of the colonial political context by becoming institutionalized, finding funding, organizing major ethnographic expeditions, and extensively studying a variety of “witness” populations inside the “French colonial Empire.” The Dogon people in the former French Sudan—present-day Mali—had the distinction of being the most intensively studied population in the region between 1930 and 1950. A series of twenty ethnographic missions over a thirty-year period – most led by Marcel Griaule (1898-1956) – allegedly uncovered the “secrets” of Dogon society, which was viewed at the time as a model of unchanged traditions and cultural wealth that Griaule and his team endeavored to celebrate and preserve.

In the wake of World War II, this unending impulse to document, preserve, and promote caused members of what became known as the “Griaule School” to transform Dogon culture into a primitivist utopia or, more specifically, an idealized society that was both singular and complex and whose unity and harmony had for centuries supposedly been oriented around a cosmogony that the ethnologists reconstructed and immortalized through their fieldwork and in their publications. Moreover, due to the posthumous popularity of Griaule’s writings, this “mythical” image of an authentic, unchanging Dogon culture gradually spread around the world, leading to a variety of forms of instrumentalization by different countries, networks, and communities.

The present article begins with a brief summary of the origins of this ethnological, colonial-era fiction before exploring in greater detail its postcolonial uses by the Republic of Mali for touristic, political, and identitarian purposes. More specifically, the article examines the appropriations, reinterpretations, concealments, and forgotten details of Dogon cultural traits popularized by Griaule that later served as symbols--to either exploit or reject--for different groups depending on their viewpoints, objectives, and contexts.

The Griaule School and the Construction of an Ideal Dogon Society

Marcel Griaule was among the first professional ethnologists trained at the Institut d’ethnologie, which was founded in late 1925 in Paris by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Paul Rivet, and Marcel Mauss. He conducted his first field study in Ethiopia in 1928-1929, learning one of the languages, but on discovering the Dogon people1 in 1931-1933 during a second field study, the Dakar-Djibouti expedition, he became fascinated by their institutions and religious practices, which he found exceptionally “secret” and “sacred.” He later led a number of fieldwork explorations in the eastern section of French Sudan, often focusing on the “society” of masks, a Dogon male institution whose secretive attributes Griaule found riveting.

His change of field was not exclusively due Griaule’s interest in a culture that he perceived as uncontaminated by Muslim or Western influence. An additional factor was the heavy-handed oversight and restrictions imposed on his second Ethiopia expedition by the independent Ethiopian government. In choosing a French colony for his next expedition, Griaule could be certain that lodgings, travels, mass collection of objects, and recruitment of informants, as well as permission to interview informants, would be significantly simplified. And these working conditions also inevitably shaped the focus and findings of his research. Indeed, it is worth asking whether his insistence on an ideal Dogon society devoid of conflict and contradictions was linked to research methods that the colonial setting authorized and even encouraged.2

Ethnology under Colonial Tutelage

Early French ethnologists’ representations of African societies were indeed closely tied to researchers’ relationships to colonization. As a proponent of an anti-assimilationist colonial policy that sought to protect local cultures, Griaule focused on societies that he believed to be “traditional,” i.e., isolated entities that were free of contamination by the religions of the Book and European domination. As a consequence, in the 1930s, he privileged study of the Dogon people and held them up as an archetype of African populations with traditions that had remained unchanged for centuries or even millennia [see image below]. After the war, Griaule, who was named to the first Chair in Anthropology in France 1942, positioned himself as the defender and promoter of an immutable Dogon society regulated by an extraordinary cosmogony.

Conservation coloniale des Dogon

Article by Marcel Griaule published in the magazine Miroir du monde on June 1, 1935, to urge the colonial administration to protect and preserve Dogon culture.

It is important to stress that Griaule’s and his team’s research took place in two distinct phases. In the 1930s, Griaule led expeditions that involved a large number of ethnographers3 who halted in Dogon Country for one-to-two-month periods [see image below]. As they were traveling, they collected, in great haste, oral interview data and visual documentation about a variety of societies that they claimed had been sheltered from foreign influence. The stated goal of these expeditions was to “archive” these cultures before what was perceived as their inevitable disappearance, principally due to colonization. For example, from 1931 to 1933, as he was traversing the African continent from west to east during his best-known mission, the Dakar-Djibouti expedition, he focused closely on three regions that the ethnographers believed remained isolated and well-preserved: Dogon Country, Northern Cameroon, and the high plateau region of Ethiopia. The purpose of conducting fieldwork among the Dogon people was to thoroughly document every aspect of Dogon social, economic, and religious life But Griaule’s increasing focus on the society of masks, however, also revealed a growing interest in relatively secret Dogon institutions, however.

Mission Griaule de 1935 en Pays dogon

Published in May 1935 on the first page of the monthly Le Monde colonial illustré, this photograph shows four members of Griaule’s “Sahara-Sudan” mission eating lunch in the Dogon village of Yugo-Pilu (from left to right, Marcel Griaule, Solange de Ganay, Hélène Gordon, and Éric Lutten).

Michel Leiris kept a field journal4 during the Dakar-Djibouti expedition in which he faithfully reported the research methods used by the researchers, particularly practices that were either allowed or encouraged by colonial domination and were consistent with assumptions of the time. These methods included the collection of thousands of ethnographic objects – a few of which were either stolen or requisitioned – intrusive observations, and “police-style interrogations” to obtain “confessions” about the secret foundations of the society being studied… Griaule was exploiting a pre-War political context in which his authority as an ethnographer (and his possibilities for obtaining financing) were enhanced, although he refused to be openly linked to the colonial administration or to integrate the colonial context into his work because of what he believed to be its damaging effects on the societies that he investigated5.

Immediately after the war ended, Griaule shifted from efforts to “archive” Dogon culture to a period of actively promoting and mythifying his observations based on data collected from a few select informants. This period centered on an attempt to document what he considered an exemplary cosmogony that regulated the entire Dogon society. His 1948 best-seller, Dieu d’eau,6 described an extraordinary mythology supposedly revealed to Griaule in 1946 during daily interviews with a blind, elderly Dogon man named Ogotemmêli [see image below]. The book proceeds via a seeming role reversal in which Griaule plays the attentive pupil – rather than an interviewer – and Ogotemmêli plays a teacher communicating important, entirely new knowledge to his pupil. This seeming role reversal was partly a literary and rhetorical device, because Griaule continued to control and reformulate his informant’s words to match his objectives. This staged inversion reflected reality to a certain extent, however, because Griaule perceived and reported Ogotemmêli’s “revelations” (as well as those of later key informants) as scholarly truths that required neither confession nor corroboration. This transformation of Griaule’s work represented Dogon society as stable, homogeneous, and harmonious, with remained startlingly well-preserved, faithfully transmitted traditions grounded in a millennial cosmogony that was uniformly shared by the entire Dogon people7.

Dieu d'eau. Entretiens avec Ogotemmêli

Photograph of Ogotemmêli, Griaule’s Dogon informant, on the cover of the 1996 second edition of Griaule’s best-seller, Dieu d’eau (1948).

In striking contrast to more recent trends in French ethnology, such as Georges Balandier’s dynamic anthropology, the Griaule School’s specific, ahistorical, apolitical approach committed the ethnographers to valorizing and preserving an African culture that they described as uniquely admirable and exceptional, but also endangered. After the mid-1940s, Griaule’s self-appointed role as guardian led him to make three commitments. The first, literary and scientific, sought to pursue the orientation of Dieu d’eau by valorizing the complexity of African systems of thought in order to counter prejudice about the savagery or inferiority of Africans. His second commitment was economic, for example, but constructing a dam to allow the inhabitants Sangha, the ethnologists’ favorite village, to grow and trade onions8 [see image below].


Dam at Sangha originally built by Griaule in 1948-1949.

Griaule’s third commitment was political. This included his appointment in 1947 as an adviser to the Assemblée de l’Union française, a group of representatives of the colonies and metropolitan France.9 He presided over the Commission on Cultural Affairs and, until his death in 1956, supported a policy intended to respect and protect cultural differences as well as “customary” authorities rather than assimilating colonial subjects. After an abortive attempt in 1954 to be elected territorial counselor of French Sudan under the banner of the Dogon Union, he was appointed “honorary president” of this political party created in 1946 on an ethnic basis. As advocate and spokesperson for an “authentic” rural Africa that would ensure recognition of “traditional” Dogon chiefs and hogons,10 the position also caused him to oppose the aspirations to progress and equality among the African advisers seated with him in the Assemblée de l’Union française11.

Griaule’s new political responsibilities and ambitions did not prevent him from pursuing his fieldwork focused on the Dogon agglomeration of Sangha. He and his colleague Germaine Dieterlen (1903-1999) continued to elaborate an increasingly complex and coherent Dogon cosmogony and symbolic system that encompassed institutions, rituals, daily activities, and material culture. Instead of documenting people’s actual daily lives, Griaule deduced social organization from his own cosmogony. The publications that he co-authored with Dieterlen, in particular the posthumously published Le Renard pale,12 proclaimed an image of an ideal society spanning centuries that has persisted to the present day around the world despite the fact that the Griaule School long ago ceased to dominate the study of the Dogon people.13

The Ethnological Fabrication of Emblematic Cultural Characteristics

To promote African societies among Westerners, the Griaule School not only created a cosmogony, but also a Dogon system of thought comparable to Greek mythology or philosophy.14 They also highlighted the admirable nature of several distinctive traits of Dogon culture, which they invested with fantastic meanings and positive qualities and to which they assigned a central role in the model being developed by the Griaule School. Selected and amplified by the ethnologists according to their own criteria, these key elements of Dogon “tradition” were represented as a catalogue of remarkable characteristics encompassing the beauty, complexity, and unity of an exceptional and exemplary African culture. This strategic cultural representation based on “traditional” characteristics developed and selected by outsiders was was not specific to this French school of ethnology, but it took on particular importance here because of its duration, its symbolistic orientation, and the significant impact of several of Griaule's and Dieterlen's publications on the image, definition, and (re)appropriation of Dogon culture, both outside and inside Mali15.

Best-sellers and cult writings, subsequently translated into English, their publications – particularly Dieu d’eau (1948), “Un système Sudanais de Sirius”16 (1950), and Le Renard pâle (1965) – highlighted a handful of singular cultural characteristics freighted with mysteries, secrets, and mythological connections and presented them as symbols of harmony and order that flowed from ancestral knowledge, original wisdom, highly-developed spirituality, as well as seamless social cohesion. Key evidence cited in support of these uniformly positive representations included the men’s shelter (togu-na), the “water god” Nommo, divination by the Pale Fox, the kanaga mask, the religious chief known as the hogon, and the invisible satellite of the star, Sirius.

Not every Dogon community shared many of the cultural traits popularized by the Griaule School, however, although they are proclaimed as the basis of the Dogon’s global fame. Only a few cliff villages did practice a form of divination based on the fox that was borrowed from their Eastern neighbors, the Moose of Yatenga. The kanaga mask had always been restricted to the central cliff region or the plateau. The men’s shelter takes a variety of forms that are specific to each Dogon region and are often quite different from the model described by Griaule. And the Dogon know nothing about the satellite of the star Sirius described in Griaule and Dieterlen’s article, “Un système Sudanais de Sirius,” despite the fact that it is supposed to be at the center of their cosmogony and ritual calendar.

Instead of firsthand observation of the diversity of Dogon Country or individual discourses, Griaule and Dieterlen recorded only the fanciful explanations gleaned in semi-directed interviews of a small group of preferred informants at a single location. Their selected local characters clearly tailored their discourse to their European employers’ expectations who, for their part, knowingly exploited their authority as ethnologist in a colonial setting and generously rewarded their key informants.

Griaule transformed the highly ambivalent figure of Nommo – the water genie whom the Dogon considered responsible for precipitation, as well as drownings and lightning strikes – into a benevolent mythical hero and “god” who was the controller and guardian of the world, the master of the word, and the standard-bearer of the culture. This metamorphosis required the ethnologists to avoid writing about Nommo’s more negative, disturbing role as an incarnation of unbridled nature.17 Before the war, ethnologists had portrayed the togu-na shelter or hangar as a cool, shaded structure in which Dogon men met to rest, work, and talk. After the war, however, they transformed it into a site for peaceful consultation – a “counsel shelter” – that they still later presented as a “house of the word” whose archetypal structure included eight pillars that supposedly represented eight mythic ancestors deliberating.18 This novel representation in turn supported Griaule’s cosmogonical narrative while also reinforcing the idealized image of a conflict-free Dogon society. The Griaule school also emphasized only the religious and cosmic functions of the hogon as a “sacred king,” while  almost entirely ignoring his political powers, unlike French colonial officials, who portrayed him as a despotic figure.19

Griaule and Dieterlen attributed an increasing number of complex, esoteric meanings to the kanaga mask that paralleled the evolution of the cosmogony and the system of signs developed by the two researchers. The mask, which has a crest in the shape of a double cross, was described in their post-1930s publications as representing a bird with unfolded wings. By the 1950s, however, it had been transformed into a variant of the swastika whose original form allegedly symbolized – according to their different interpretations – either god’s creative attempts to reshape the world, the image of man and the world, the ark descended from the sky or the insect that attacked it, the first human death, the union of heaven and earth, the internal vibration of matter, the Pale Fox, or every participant in creation.20

After many of the Dogon cultural artefacts and practices popularized by Griaule had become famous around the world, the Malian government began to exploit them to attract tourists or as political or identity symbols. Their local and national representations are typically altered in meaning or form in response to social and cultural changes, foreign visitors’ tastes, or the current realities. When these appropriations do not conform to the imperative to exoticize, however, they either eclipse or obscure the ethnological studies that had fabricated and circulated the original interpretations.

Postcolonial Misrepresentations of Griaule School Publications

After Mali gained its independence in 1960, the Dogon and Malians began to explicitly take advantage of Griaule’s publications to promote tourism and Dogon culture. Dieu d’eau became a source of alluring local interpretations and whimsical stories to impress outsiders or create images that were tailored to their expectations. More importantly, the Griaule school’s characterization of the region as a conservatory of time-honored traditions offered scholarly support for the designation of Dogon Country as part of UNESCO World Heritage.

Cultural Tourism and Ethnology in Dogon Country

The close link between myth and social reality espoused by the Griaule School helped fuel the image of a traditional African culture frozen in time while also inspiring the touristic quest for exoticism. The geographical character of Dogon Country also lent itself well to this type of cultural tourism.21 The Bandiagara Cliffs region, Dogon Country’s most distinctive area, is a vast sandstone escarpment with small villages scattered along its stony flanks that literally appear sheltered from outside influence or attacks [see image below]. As the flow of tourists expanded after independence, Dogon Country became a must-see attraction for foreigners flocking to marvel at the ancestral customs that reflected the celebrated myths described in Griaule’s publications.

Falaise de Bandiagara

A Dogon village at the foot of the Bandiagara escarpment.

Tourism in the region, particularly in Sangha, the Griaule School’s preferred village, was explicitly shaped by ethnological accounts. Two organizations – the Commissariat au Tourisme (CT) and the Société Malienne d’Exploitation des Ressources Touristiques (SMERT) – were created to oversee Malian tourism in the 1970s. These organizations developed and marketed three tourist itineraries: Timbuktu, the Dogon Country, and the Niger Loop, a combination of the two other circuits. As the SMERT director observed, these locations were chosen based “not on an internal desire to promote tourism, but on writings by explorers and researchers who were struck by the singularity of Malian culture at these sites22”. The government’s tourism initiatives were thus a direct product of Griaule and his associates’ exotic portrayals of Dogon culture.

The instant financial impact of tourism encouraged villagers to cater to this quest for the exotic, initially by creating lodgings with basic amenities and spaces where tourists could discover the promised authenticity. Locals built campsites and staged cultural events and strategically placed traditional symbols that were tailored to tourists’ expectations, arranging itineraries that incorporated most striking ethnological “findings.” Although local guides did not necessarily read Griaule and Dieterlen’s work in detail, they drew on specific passages and drawings from Dieu d’eau. Contented visitors even offered copies of the book to the guides.23 The guides, informed by the book’s descriptions of anthropomorphic symbolism at Dogon sites, regaled enthralled clients by explaining that such an altar is the sex or the navel of the village.

Local guides might have lacked extensive knowledge about Griaule and Dieterlen’s research, but they were well aware of how the ethnologists represented ancestral Dogon society. Armed with this strategic knowledge, they developed tourist circuits that included the most characteristic sanctuaries or altars that bore traces of libations, with the express purpose of demonstrating the wisdom, animism, and deep spirituality of the Dogon people. Visitors were systematically accompanied, ostensibly to prevent infringing on religious prohibitions, but also to guide them away from signs of outside influence. Foreigners also had opportunities to admire and purchase a profusion of supposedly “authentic” artifacts, particularly during obligatory halts at an antique shop that assigned a mythical quality to the items on sale, notwithstanding their largely commercial nature. Offerings included items that no villager had ever owned, such as stone statuettes in the pose of the thinker and etched calabashes. Tourists happily purchased such products, however, encouraged by the inspired explanations of the local vendors. To enhance the visibility of the myths that supposedly regulate everyday Dogon life, from ceremonies to the slightest daily gesture, guides attributed symbolic meaning to every object and site, transforming the depiction of a human being on granary shutters into ancestors, animal figures into totems, and indeterminate village scenes into prayers or sacrifices.


A men’s togu-na shelter also serving as a souvenir shop in a touristic Dogon village.

This over-exposure led everyday village activities to become imbued with exaggerated symbolization. A few old men chatting under the togu-na  shelter [see image above] inspired guides to describe them as engaged in a grave palaver concerning a crucial village matter. These tactics revealed a desire to accommodate the ethnologists’ analyses that had transformed the shelter into a nexus of peaceful, democratic debate. Indeed, in Dieu d’eau, Griaule introduced the togu-na  as “the counsel shelter [of the elders].”24 Griaule’s daughter, the ethno-linguist Geneviève Calame-Griaule (1924-2013), acknowledged that the togu-na ’s primary function was to protect the men from sun and heat, but in 1965 she emphasized that the architecture of the structures suggested a seated position that was not propitious to expressions of anger.25 Guides rapidly integrated this simple observation, which became a key anecdote in their discourse, minus any reference to the buildings’ cooling properties. Guides even mimed a man ill-advisedly expressing irritation during a discussion, striking his head to show that he was carried away by excessive emotion. Guides were thus enacting highly exaggerated interpretations inspired by ethnologists that were in reflected in tourist brochures, artworks, and books promoting a peaceable, picturesque Mali. By basing their discourse on bits of information gleaned from anthropological texts, local guides were responding to their clients’ desires to observe an isolated people preserved from the ostensibly ruinous winds of change.

Masque dogon à échasses

Mask dancing in front of tourists in the Dogon village of Nombori.

Poses touristiques

Dogon masks posing for tourist photographs.

The apotheosis of these half-staged representations was masked dances that were performed for tourists and that avoided the slightest trace of modernity. Because the masks were said to represent myths and as evidence of the exceptional spirituality of the Dogon people, they played a key role in touristic itineraries.26 In Sangha and several other cliff villages, they were displayed to visitors outside of masked funeral dances. Analyzing how the masks evolved also illustrates the interference between ritual and folkloric dances. To the detriment of artistic innovation, the preference for ceremonies devoid of hints of outside influence led to a preference for “traditional” models during genuine village funerals. The lasting influence of Griaule’s fascination with masks over touristic performances thus influenced Dogon rituals themselves, a blatant illustration of the causal connection between ethnology and exoticized staging in heavily studied societies.

These connections are particularly evident in Sangha where, after being led on a circuit that was punctuated by symbolic features of Dogon culture, tourists following in the footsteps of the ethnologist who has “initiated” into knowledge of the myth and was given a traditional funeral. Guides even halted in front of “his” house (in reality a CNRS building), as well as “his” dam and the location where the funeral mannequin of his effigy was displayed [see image below].


A rocky crevice in Sangha holding the funerary mannequin that represents Marcel Griaule.

As further evidence of the intertwined relationship between tourism and ethnology, local informants of the newer generation of anthropologists also work as tourist guides, and boast to their clients that they contribute to anthropological studies. Tourism in Dogon Country has borrowed from ethnology, particularly from the Griaule School, to better satisfy foreign visitors’ search for the primitive. Regardless of discrepancies between imagery and lived realities, local actors have little interest in presenting their culture in ways that contradict the scholarly discourses that create their reputation, regardless of how obsolete or primitivizing they are. They appropriated, transformed, and even caricatured Griaule School representations in the name of catering to the flow of tourists who nourished the local economy. These adapted narratives were subsequently distributed via blogs and travel guides, popular literature, and even ethnology books. While local tourism was a crucial vector of this circuitous reappropriation of ethnological scholarship, other forms of appropriation have emerged, for economic or identitarian purposes, in Bamako and around the country.

The Griaule School: Scholarly Endorsement of a National Program

In the late 1970s, the Malian government began to exploit Griaule School publications to encourage the development of tourism and promote official recognition of Dogon Country as part of global heritage. In 1976, the Malian Commissariat au tourisme coauthored a trilingual book, Au cœur du Mali, that celebrates the “radical foreignness” of Dogon culture, citing the extraordinary cosmogony revealed in Dieu d’eau.27 As Gaetano Ciarcia has shown, however, Malian authorities also used Griaule School publications to promote the exceptional value of Dogon culture and to promote Dogon Country candidacy as a UNESCO World Heritage site.28 After being refused several times, their 1988 application to UNESCO received a favorable response in 1989, primarily due to a positive report based in part on the ethnological literature. Following an interview with Germaine Dieterlen, the ICOMOS experts who evaluated the application concurred with the ethnologists’ assessment of a case of “integrated preservation” that was respectful of every aspect of Dogon culture and preserved the supposedly harmonious relationships between myth and daily life. For example, they specifically mentioned the cosmogonic and anthropomorphic symbolism of the Dogon village described in Dieu d’eau, in which every building corresponded to a body part of the “god” Nommo.29

After Dogon Country was finally classified as a “natural and cultural sanctuary of the Bandiagara cliff” in December 1989, a second fieldwork mission organized by UNESCO several months attempted to determine the optimal methods for balancing “integrated tourism” with cultural preservation. The experts recommended creating a regional museum that, in addition to storing and exhibiting objects, could function as a documentation center thanks to a “Griaule collection.” An article in the May 1991 issue of Courrier de l’Unesco also borrowed myths and symbolic correspondences directly from Dieu d’eau, including the kanaga, Nommo, the hogon, the togu-na, and the Pale Fox, to portray a culture in which “every detail of domestic, social, and economic life is connected to their cosmogony.”30 The Malian government, UNESCO, and international experts were thus using colonial-era studies by the Griaule School and a primitivist vision of Dogon culture and its emblematic objects and practices as evidence of the preserved, authentic, and exceptional character of this certified “sanctuary.”

Primarily motivated by economic considerations, Dogon Country became part of the World Heritage list, a change that has had two national-level consequences: the establishment in 1993 of a Bandiagara “cultural mission,” and the promotion of Dogon Country by government tourism agencies. The twin goals of the Mission culturelle de Bandiagara were to protect and promote the newly classified region by developing attractions and infrastructure, creating village museums and festivals, renovating emblematic buildings, and developing campsites. From the outset, the organization focused on cultural attributes that were likely to appeal to foreign visitors in search of the symbolic universe portrayed by Dieu d’eau, notably kagana masks, the togu-na, and the hogon. Some effort was made to avoid propagating the Griaule School’s image of an immutable Dogon culture regulated by thousand-year-old myths, but when describing Dogon cultural heritage to international institutions, the Mission director clung largely to Griaule’s and his colleagues’ representations by emphasizing the cosmogony and astral knowledge.31

The Office malien du tourisme et de l’hôtellerie (OMATHO), was established in 1995, as Dogon Country was becoming the premier West African tourist destination. The agency adopted a stereotyped promotional discourse exclusively directed towards Western travelers who hoped to discover the “mythic people” celebrated by the Griaule School and the media. In a 2005 book, OMATHO described the Dogon as a “mysterious people” whose “lives are organized around a cosmogony rich in myths.”32 OMATHO’s first website even cited Griaule’s studies as evidence of a preserved, isolated, and authentic Dogon society over which the sacred reigns supreme:

“The history and life of the Dogon are currently well known, in particular thanks to the studies of the French ethnologist Marcel Griaule. If there is an African people that has escaped any foreign influence, it is clearly the Dogon of Mali. Their history is marked by the desire and obstinacy to remain authentic, to preserve their soul. […] Indeed, the Dogon live amid the mysterious world of symbols, hieroglyphic signs, colors, emblems, and objects that, constituting a language without words, enunciate man’s relationship with the world: it is the reign of the sacred.”33

The certification of Dogon Country as a UNESCO World Heritage site had two institutional consequences at the National level. First, the Malian government held the first “Week of Cultural Expression” in Bamako in March 1990 under the banner, “Knowledge of Our Culture: The Dogon.” Combining performances, lectures, and round tables in celebration of the region’s heritage status, the event concluded with a meeting of a “Synthesis Commission.” Comprised of Dogon intellectuals who resided in the capital, the meeting’s purpose was to summarize the lessons that should be drawn from the week’s events. Members made a number of proposals, including the creation of a “Malian association for the protection and promotion of Dogon culture” and a “Marcel Griaule Foundation” to assist the association by defining a research program.34

The idea of a foundation bearing Griaule’s name illustrates the enduring grip of the Griaule School on research on Dogon Country just a few years before the first generation of Dogon anthropologists and ethnolinguists would initiate their own doctoral studies in the region.35 The Commission was less intent on aligning itself with the work of French colonial ethnologists, however, than on establishing a prestigious scholarly partnership that could support the scholarly work of Malian academics and local Dogon figures. Some of the speakers during the Week of Cultural Expression, all of whom were Dogon or Malian, voiced criticisms of Griaule’s work,36 but the Commission was also highly aware of the strategic importance of this ethnological study in promoting Dogon culture in the media, by UNESCO, and by the Malian government.

In Bamako six months later, a group of academics, diplomats, economists, and politicians attempted to implement Commission recommendations by creating the Ginna Dogon association, a “Malian association for the protection and promotion of Dogon culture.” The association’s statutes supported the creation of a Marcel Griaule Foundation and adopted a logo that incorporated seven ideograms drawn from Griaule’s article, “Systèmes graphiques des dogon.”37 As recently as 2010, the Ginna Dogon website web openly demonstrated that its primary motivation was tourism and cited the ethnological reputation of Dogon Country to promote tourism.38 The site also suggested several excursions and provided a summary of the myths, interpretations, and “secrets” revealed by Griaule to describe a Dogon cosmogony “worthy of ancient peoples.”39

For Dogon elites and the association that represented them, embracing the vision of Dogon tradition that had been popularized in Griaule’s publications helped optimize touristic potential while also allowing them to position themselves as the true guardians of an exceptional but endangered culture.40 Ginna Dogon eventually began to distance itself from the Griaule School, timidly at first in the 2000s, but more openly after tourism declined precipitously in the 2010s, when the organization began to produce a discourse addressed exclusively to fellow Dogon and Malians, and no longer to foreigners. As seen below, this discursive and cultural realignment has been matched at local and national levels.

Achieving Distance from the Griaulian Model

While Griaule School publications have continued influence tourism in Mali, local and national leaders are aware of two significant flaws in their representations of Dogon culture. First, promoting a vision of Dogon society as isolated, frozen in time, and irreducibly unique, Griaulian discourses contradict most Malians’ aspirations towards “progress” and change, as well as the Malian government’s imperative of uniting the many diverse groups that comprise the population. French colonial-era studies obviously constitute a questionable foundation for a robust postcolonial national identity. After Malian independence, elements of early ethnological research informed official discourses, but their origins were obscured, and they were tailored to current political. On the local level, however, the Dogon began to distance themselves from this historic ethnological legacy when their views on tourism changed in the 2000s.

The Renewal of Touristic Discourses and Practices

Although the benefits were unevenly distributed, the flood of tourists before the 2010s improved the economic situation of many Dogon villagers. This economic windfall made outright rejection of the discourses of the Griaule School unlikely because they were the source of the very strategies used to attract and satisfy foreign visitors. Rejection was also unlikely because the influence of ethnological discourses on daily life and touristic representations was so profound that it even gave rise to local neo-traditions.

By the turn of the century, however, after an extended silence among Dogon intellectuals concerning this cumbersome ethnological background, there were perceptible signs of a degree of discursive and touristic detachment from the Griaulian model. The first sign was a series of books on Dogon culture that were published in the 2000s by local peo-ple involved in touristic activities. Although their authors did not openly attack Griaule or contradict his conclusions, they offered new interpretations of Dogon culture that focused on the villagers’ daily lives instead of cosmogony. The co-author of one book, Issa Guindo, owned several hotels in the Bankass area and was highly involved in promoting the southern areas of Dogon Country, particularly through cultural events. In the book that co-authored by Guindo and Hassan Kansaye, Nous, les Dogons,41 it is Dogon religious leaders themselves who explain Dogon religious practices and beliefs. Breaking with the Western vision of an unchanging society, the book’s preface promises to “reveal not a civilization fixed for all eternity, but a strong people who have not been spared by doubt and anxiety.”

Bogoum Kassogue, the former president of the Bandiagara cliffs guides association, authored Itinéraire et vie des Dogon,42 which describes the important phases of a local farmer’s life, from birth to education, marriage, social life, and initiation into secret societies. The book also contains a series of small vignettes that are in stark contrast to the Griaule School’s esoteric myths. A third book, La Mère des masques, was written by Sékou Ogobara Dolo, long “chief of the guides” in Sangha and founder of the cultural troupe, “Awa.” Ogobara Dolo’s stated goal is to “promote a better understanding of the daily life of Sangha’s residents. In other words, to allow us to enter the concrete nature of things and the material existence of twenty-first century Dogon people.”43

It should be acknowledged that these authors promote their individual viewpoints, in echo of Griaule’s elderly informant, Ogotemmêli, or promote their own region of Dogon Country, as opposed to the more celebrated village of Sangha. Consequently, none of the authors directly challenges the Griaulian paradigm, instead adopting his ethnological celebrity while also offering new perspectives on Dogon society. The richness of Dogon culture and of everyday life in the region permeate all three books. The question is whether they illustrate a genuine trend for touristic discourses to distance themselves from their historical roots in ethnology?

Champs d'oignons

Onion fields in Sangha.

Touristic practices have been gradually evolving since the 2000s. The range of souvenirs on display has grown – alongside small statuettes and masks, merchants’ stands now offer basic farm tools such as dabas [traditional short-handled hoes] and sickles. The classic visit to “Marcel Griaule’s dam” now includes a how the surrounding onion fields are cultivated. This renewed interest in local agriculture is associated with greater emphasis of the “natural site of the Bandiagara escarpment,” long a mere backdrop, as a way of more fully understanding Dogon culture. The Dogon anthropologist Abinou Témé confirms these trends: “tourism in Dogon Country long remained cultural and ethnological. Today, the country is more attractive for the beauty of its landscape than for its culture.”44

Affiche du « Festival des masques » organisé fin 2009 dans le village dogon d’Indell

Poster from the “Festival of Masks” organized in late 2009 in the Dogon village of Indell.

Although these developments may appear somewhat tenuous, others are more visible, such as the mask festivals launched in the 2000s [see image above]. These new festivals were initiated by the Bandiagara cultural mission in less touristed areas and involve several days of mask dances in a host village with a few other invited villages. While they have not attracted the anticipated number of foreign visitors, they have attracted large numbers of Dogon spectators. One notable feature of these events is that outside signs of modernity and foreign influence--plastic sandals, sports shoes, and dark glasses--are no longer banished but are casually integrated with traditional clothing [see image below]. The sanitized character of touristic events has thus been reduced in favor of less artificial and more spontaneous dances that are and freed from imposed anthropological norms. Villagers and members of the diaspora participate in performances centered on masks, while identity-charged objects that have to some extent been cleansed of the religious significance that Griaule attributed to them. This new generation of mask festivals thus exemplifies a renewed distance from the ethnological fiction of an immutable Dogon culture permeated by spirituality.

© Anne Doquet, 2010

Masked Dogon who kept his shoes on during the mask festival in Dioubaïrou.

In a broader sense, this earlier image, which was a source of local pride, had become an encumbrance for Dogon people who prefer to participate in change. The twin processes of democratization in the 1990s and decentralization in the 2000s have encouraged awareness among local elected officials in more heavily visited areas of Dogon Country that they were long betrayed by a State that secretly slowed regional development in order to profit from tourism. It is now clear to local officials now understand that the government isolated the area to perpetuate archaic living conditions – by preventing road construction crucial for transporting onions, for example. Similar complaints can be heard in the Dogon Country area that is labeled World Heritage, where the State is suspected of siphoning off UNESCO funds. Villagers also complain of other regressive constraints imposed by the State and international organizations intended to keep them in a “primitive” state.

After serving as the guarantor of this heritage policy, the Griaule School has clearly been far from unscathed in recent decades. Ethnology has also been the focus of more pointed critiques. In the early 2000s, Gaetano Ciarcia had already observed that the disillusionment with ethnography among guides and professional informants in southern Dogon Country was gradually proving persuasive among Sangha residents.45 In the ensuing decade, foreign researchers were greeted with resentment and accusations of neocolonialism for several reasons, including the declining reputation and desertion of Sangha by Western anthropologists, but also their silence concerning the dramatic crisis in the region since the aggravation of bloody conflicts between the Fulani and Dogon peoples against the background of jihadist incursions and conflicts between shepherds and farmers. On the local scale, these sometimes-bitter complaints are a final proof of anthropologists’ diminished influence.

For decades, Sangha welcomed tens of thousands of visitors whose illusions could not be shattered. As a consequence, there have been few openly radical criticisms of anthropological accounts. Critical views have primarily been expressed through touristic practices that have taken increasing liberties with the Dogon societal model promoted by the Griaule School. It has been in Bamako, however, that this tendency towards distanciation has been the most pronounced.

National Identity and Forgetting or Disguising Griaule’s Publications

At the national level, urban Malian elites rarely mention the Griaule School, at least not directly or explicitly, in discussions about the construction of a national or Dogon identity that do not involve tourism. Consciously or not, they nevertheless exploit certain elements distorted and popularized by the Griaule School, although they removed from their original ethnological contexts and their meanings are adapted to postcolonial, post-independence Mali. Reappropriating well-known, “enchanted” symbols by assigning them newer, positive values has enabled the celebration of the country’s unity, cohesion, and dynamism while abandoning stereotypes of a traditional, culturally unchanging Africa.

A similar process was at work in January 1959 with the establishment of the Fédération du Mali that encompassed the two former French colonies of Senegal and Sudan. This newly independent, short-lived State adopted a flag featuring a stylized central insignia that represented a kanaga mask borrowed from Griaule’s Masques dogons46 [see image below]. The motif, described in the Constitution as “the ideogram of man, arms raised to the sky,”47 was designed to evoke the spiritual aspect of African cultural identity while incarnating the new “Black Man,” standing tall to reclaim his pride and dignity after freeing himself from the colonial yoke. Although the individual who imposed this unifying national emblem has never been identified with certainty, several clues suggest that it was Léopold Sédar Senghor, a founder of the Federation and the Negritude movement and an admirer of Griaule’s work. In 1980, Senghor answered a Senegalese researcher who was questioning him about the meaning of the kanaga on the flag that the mask had been chosen and “reinterpreted in the light of our current situation” to represent “the blossoming of the Black Man.”48 Although Senghor did not reveal his source to avoid the appearance of Western influence, he appears to have been inspired by esoteric symbols borrowed from Griaule linking earth and sky or man and the world, thus transforming the kanaga into a pan-African “banner” of independence and Negritude.

Drapeau de la Fédération du Mali

Flag of the Fédération du Mali, with a stylized kanaga in its center, on a postal stamp celebrating the creation of this independent State in January 1959

After the collapse of the Fédération du Mali in August 1960, the first flag of the Republic of Mali adopted an almost identical version of the kanaga design. Then this emblem changed its form and meaning according to its national uses. In 1963, it adopted a partly winged appearance of a bird in flight between earth and sky for the Air Mali logo [see image below]. This representation, which has no equivalent in Masques dogons, was nevertheless inspired by Griaule’s early interpretations of animals. This newer symbol thus contributed more contemporary national values to the touristic uses of the kanaga ever since the end of colonization.

Air Mali

Advertisement for Air Mali, the national airline, created in 1963 and featuring a logo portraying a winged kanaga.

In 2010, a half-century after independence, a Malian political organization inspired by Pan-Africanism – the Groupe de Réflexion et d’Initiatives Nouvelles (GRIN) – adopted a logo with a stylized kanaga in the center of a circle representing the globe. According to the group’s first website, the logo symbolizes “African Man” as a universal African who is respectful of African values and open to the world. Both of his arms are raised to the sky in an expression of emancipation and pride, while both feet are anchored on the ground to express “cultural rootedness and psychological stability.”49 This political reinterpretation of the motif from the first Malian flag illustrates amnesia – but not effacement – of the Griaule School, the source of this national or pan-African use of the kanaga.

In Malian political circles, the togu-na  shelter – another Dogon cultural emblem defined and valorized by Griaule – was recovered from the 1990s to symbolize the return of democracy and the need for national unity. The Minister of Culture, Aminata Traoré, and the Malian political elites, gave the name of toguna to a seminar for reflection and national consultation.50 The Malian President at the time, Alpha Oumar Konaré, suggested that this appropriation as a national symbol was consistent with the goals and spirit of the meetings because it helped foster a “national approach to the culture” and the “reappropriation of the culture of the country by men.”51 President Konaré’s wife, the historian Adame Ba Konaré, viewed the togu-na as a symbol of African democracy, “if indeed democracy is also debate, the exchange of opinions about questions of public interest by every citizen.”52 The next President, Amadou Toumani Touré, announced that he, too, was inspired by traditional African democratic approaches to conflict resolution symbolized by the togu-na or the palaver tree, as a means of achieving what he described as “consensual power management.”53

In the 2010s, the term togu-na resurfaced frequently in Malian political discourse to describe a national debate open to every segment of society. In 2016, Minister Ousmane Sy described the togu-na as a model of community dialogue, conflict prevention, and effective democratic governance.54

Adapted to the political discourse of the moment, this vision is indirectly derived from Griaule’s reductionist interpretation of the togu-na as a “consultation shelter” where Dogon elders discuss public matters, like the eight primal ancestors peacefully engaged in debate. Malian political leaders remain largely unaware of this original reference because they draw inspiration from tourist guides’ descriptions of togu-na as low-ceilinged shelters that discouraged angry outbursts and nurtured quiet consultation. Beginning in the mid-1990s, this positive, simple interpretation of the togu-na as the locus of unity and conciliation spread throughout Mali but also to Europe. Still, the trajectory of the togu-na in the collective imagination involved amnesia about its Western imprint while also glossing over a significant detail: the exclusion of women from a shelter reserved for men.

After the 2000s, Dogon leaders and intellectuals continued to exploit the positive image of the togu-na partly inherited from Griaule but, unlike Malian political leaders, they identified it as an emblem of Dogon identity by reclaiming it as a site for the transmission of culturally specific knowledge and values instead of a site for consultation or consensus. By insisting on the educational importance of exchanges under the togu-na, they promoted an identitarian discourse which differs from earlier ethnological, touristic, or political cultural interpretations.55

This new perspective inspired several proposals and actions by Ginna Dogon. In February 2004, Ginna Dogon’s first national conference approved plans for a research and documentation center called the Espace Togu-na. During a festival in February 2008 sponsored by the association in the northeastern corner of Dogon Country, a monumental togu-na was inaugurated in Douentza. This new edifice was designed as a lecture hall for the festival, but more importantly as a site for youth education and for teaching Dogon culture. The festival program, which included lectures and teaching and research events by members of Ginna Dogon, reflected the hopes of local leaders that the Dogon community, free of Western ethnologists, would henceforth be able to define its own identity, control its image, and produce their own research studies.

National-level appropriations of the hogon as a heritage symbol reveal a two-fold process. Urban Dogon and Malian leaders were influenced in part by the Griaule School in attributing exceptional ancestral knowledge to the hogon, despite the fact that he was not the repository of specific cultural knowledge. Within the contemporary context of a predominantly Muslim Mali, however, the authorities tend to promote the political aspects of the hogon, while minimizing his earlier religious functions. This contrasts with the early tendency of ehtnology to reduce the hogon to a “priest.” He is even occasionally represented as an indigenous African icon of democracy or anticolonial resistance.56

The honorary title hogon has also been awarded to a number of political and non-religious figures during ceremonies held by the government, the Ginna Dogon association, and Bandiagara municipal officials. Honorees have ranged from President Chirac in 2003 [see image below] to President Amani Toumani Touré in 2011 and Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga in 2018. In 2016, a Dogon cultural festival organized in Bamako was called “Ogobagna” [Hogon’s Meal], a further demonstration of the more-political-than-religious vision of the hogon in urban Ginna Dogon circles. Indeed, the event’s name was intended to represent the unity implied by sharing a meal under the hogon’s “supreme authority” as the virtual chief of this festival village. The same year, a Dogon journalist founded an informational political newsletter entitled Le Hogon in Bamako, drawing on the impartiality, political wisdom, and secret powers that are typically associated with this emblematic Dogon cultural figure.


Togu-na shelter built in the lower section of the Dogon village of Ireli to receive President Jacques Chirac in 2003, who was ceremonially awarded the honorary title of hogon, as indicated on the sign on the left.

Festival Ogobagna

Poster for the third festival Ogobagna in Bamako organized in 2018 by the Ginna Dogon cultural association (whose retouched logo appears at the top left of the poster).

These examples illustrate the ways in which the Dogon, and Malians in general, have reiterated, adapted, inverted, and rejected the representations and symbols promoted by the Griaule School. Depending on their situations, interests, and purposes, Malians have selected, transformed, or redefined these borrowed interpretations, while also rejecting others and creating new ones in celebration of their culture. These new meanings are resolutely rooted in the present and in national, pan-African, postcolonial, and multi-denominational discourses.

The process of selective appropriation also applies to widely recognized symbols of Dogon culture. Although national leaders exploit the kanaga, the togu-na, and the hogon for identitarian and political purposes, they appear less eager to embrace mythical figures such as the Nommo and the Pale Fox, except as bait for tourists, because they are far more controversial. The primary goal of urban Muslim or Christian leaders is to promote renovated traditional forms that are compatible with their faith, their status as Malian citizens, and their lives as city-dwellers, i.e., a consensual tradition purged of  “animistic” or other attributes that are perceived as regressive, such as the exclusion of women from the togu-na. The lone exception applies to touristic discourses, in which Griaule’s writings provide a timeless mirror in which Western visitors and international institutions are allowed to see the reflection of a unique, timeless culture. Because it imposes a décor and infrastructure that are incompatible with current or anticipated changes, this primitivist strategy no longer elicits a consensus at the local level, however.

The best-known aspects of Dogon culture unarguably belong to a colonial-era heritage constructed by ethnologists who were contemptuous of urban Africa and who promoted forms of protective cultural guardianship. Most of these cultural practices and symbols have adapted as Mali has developed and changed since independence. Paradoxically, they have also been recycled by urban leaders as emblems of political emancipation, African democracy, and neo-traditions that reconcile past and present, rural and urban, and regional and national identities. Dogon culture thus continues to serve as a national reservoir of exemplary “traditions” that henceforth help to “Africanize” national discourses and validate ongoing changes rather than resisting them, unlike the visions of the Griaule School or European tourists.

In the context of the recent bloody clashes between Fulani shepherds and Dogon farmers,57 the creation of the Dogon militia Dana Ambassagou is consistent with this process. The founders of this armed group resoundingly reject the harmony and immutability that colonial ethnologists attributed to Dogon society. Instead, they prefer to draw on the image of “traditional” hunters as a source of cultural unity and historical legitimacy for a militia that has no local precedent and that is adapting to new forms of war and the challenges that accompany them.

Unfold notes and references
Retour vers la note de texte 17018


At the time, the Dogon were still frequently labelled “pagans” or habe by colonial administrators and their Fulani or Toucouleur auxiliaries.

Retour vers la note de texte 17019


See Éric Jolly, “Les notes de terrain de Marcel Griaule: enregistrer et ordonner une société,” in Christian Jacob (Ed.), Lieux de savoir 2. Les mains de l’intellect, Paris, Albin Michel, 2011, p. 312-332; Éric Jolly, “Ethnologie de sauvegarde et politique coloniale: les engagements de Marcel Griaule,” Journal des africanistes, vol. 89, no 1, 2019, p. 7-10.

Retour vers la note de texte 17020


Griaule’s 1930s expeditions included Michel Leiris, André Schaeffner, Deborah Lifchitz, Solange de Ganay, Germaine Dieterlen, and Jean-Paul Lebeuf.

Retour vers la note de texte 17021


See Michel Leiris, L’Afrique fantôme, Paris, Gallimard, 1934.

Retour vers la note de texte 17022


See Éric Jolly, “Ethnologie de sauvegarde et politique coloniale: les engagements de Marcel Griaule,” Journal des africanistes, vol. 89, no 1, 2019, p. 6-31.

Retour vers la note de texte 17023


Marcel Griaule, Dieu d’eau. Entretiens avec Ogotemmêli, Paris, Les Éditions du Chêne, 1948.

Retour vers la note de texte 17024


Éric Jolly, “Des jeux aux mythes: le parcours ethnographic de Marcel Griaule,” Gradhiva, no 9, 2009, p. 180-183.

Retour vers la note de texte 17026


Marcel Griaule conseiller de l’Union française, Paris, Nouvelles éditions latines, 1957.

Retour vers la note de texte 17027


To honor Griaule’s memory, shortly after his death, the hogon of Arou’s spokesperson emphasized in 1956 that Griaule “was able to find a rational solution by causing a reconciliation between administrative and spiritual chiefs at which he to whom he asked for constant assistance for the smooth running of the country” (Marcel Griaule conseiller de l’Union française, Paris, Nouvelles éditions latines, 1957, p. 161).

Retour vers la note de texte 17028


Benoît de L’Estoile, “Au nom des ‘vrais Africains’: Les élites scolarisées de l’Afrique coloniale face à l’anthropologie (1930-1950),” Terrain, no 28, 1997, p. 98-100; Li-Chuan Tai, L’Anthropologie française entre sciences coloniales et décolonisation (1880-1960), Paris: Publications de la Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 2010, ici p. 213-219; Éric Jolly, “Ethnologie de sauvegarde et politique coloniale: les engagements de Marcel Griaule,” Journal des africanistes, vol. 89, no 1, 2019, p. 23-25.

Retour vers la note de texte 17029


Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, Le Renard pâle, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, 1965.

Retour vers la note de texte 17030


The shift in studies of the Dogon dates from the 1984 publication of Jacky Bouju’s doctoral thesis, which focused on the economic anthropology of a Dogon village. Graine de l’homme, enfant du mil, Paris, Société d’ethnographie.

Retour vers la note de texte 17032


Concerning comparisons between Dogon and Greek mythology or Platonic and Pre-Socratic cosmologies, see Marcel Griaule, “Réflexions sur les religions noires,” Tropiques, no 316, 1949, p. 53; Marcel Griaule, “Connaissance de l’homme noir,” in La Connaissance de l’homme au XXe siècle, Neuchâtel, Éditions de la Baconière, 1952, p. 23; Marcel Griaule, “Le problème de la culture noire,” in L’Originalité des cultures, son rôle dans la compréhension internationale, Paris: UNESCO, 1953, p. 384, 388, 390.

Retour vers la note de texte 17031


See more general observations by James Clifford (Malaise dans la culture. Ethnographie, littérature et art du XXe siècle, Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1996 [1988], p. 229) and Jean Bazin (Des clous dans la Joconde. L’anthropologie autrement, Toulouse: Anacharsis, 2008, p. 427-428).

Retour vers la note de texte 17033


Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, “Un système Sudanais de Sirius,” Journal de la Société des africanistes, vol. XX, no 2, 1950, p. 273-294.

Retour vers la note de texte 17034


See Éric Jolly, “Dogon virtuels et contre-cultures,” L’Homme, vol. 211, 2004, p. 41-74.

Retour vers la note de texte 17035


See Éric Jolly, “La tradition orale en image: genèse de deux emblèmes culturels dogon,” in Gaetano Ciarcia and Éric Jolly (Eds.), Métamorphoses de l’oralité entre écrit et image, Paris-Montpellier, Karthala-MSH-Montpellier, 2015, p. 111-128.

Retour vers la note de texte 17036


Cédric Touquet, Mésententes, discordes et autres histoires. Una anthropologie du conflit en milieu périurbain (Bandiagara, Mali), doctoral dissertation, Aix-Marseille Université, 2009, p. 114-118; Maurice Fawtier, “Le cercle de Bandiagara,” Renseignements coloniaux et documents (supplement of L’Afrique française), vol. 24, no 2, 1914, p. 74; Robert Arnaud, “Le dernier épisode de la conquête du Sudan français (l’affaire de Tabi),” Renseignements coloniaux, supplément du Bulletin mensuel du Comité de l’Afrique française et du Comité du Maroc, vol. 8, 1922, p. 205, 215.

Retour vers la note de texte 17037


See Éric Jolly, “Circulation planétaire du masque dogon kanaga,” in Michèle Cros and Julien Bondaz (Eds.), Afriques au figuré. Images migrantes, Paris, Éditions des archives contemporaines, 2013, p. 19-35.

Retour vers la note de texte 17038


See Anne Doquet’s description of this imagined connection between an authentic, stable culture and chaotic landscape and a “primitive” nature. “La nature dogon? Patrimonialisation culturelle et écotourisme en pays dogon,” in Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, Dominique Juhé-Beaulaton, Jean Boutrais, and Bernard Roussel (Eds.), Patrimonialiser la nature tropicale. Dynamiques, enjeux internationaux, II, Paris, Éditions de l’IRD, 2005, p. 395-418.

Retour vers la note de texte 17039


Revue Soundjata, no 12, special issue “Le tourisme malien en question,” Bamako, 1979, p. 29.

Retour vers la note de texte 17040


Anne Doquet, Les Masques dogon. Ethnologie savante et ethnologie autochtone, Paris, Karthala, 1999, p. 254.

Retour vers la note de texte 17042


Marcel Griaule, Dieu d’eau. Entretiens avec Ogotemmêli, Paris, Les Éditions du Chêne, 1948, p. 120.

Retour vers la note de texte 17041


Geneviève Calame-Griaule, Ethnologie et langage, la parole chez the Dogon, Paris, Gallimard, 1965, p. 73.

Retour vers la note de texte 17043


See Anne Doquet, Les Masques dogon. Ethnologie savante et ethnologie autochtone, Paris, Karthala, 1999.

Retour vers la note de texte 17044


Michel Renaudeau, Au cœur du Mali, Bamako-Paris, Commissariat au tourisme-Éditions Delroisse, 1976, p. 106-107.

Retour vers la note de texte 17045


See Gaetano Ciarcia, De la mémoire ethnographic, L’exotisme du pays dogon, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2003, p. 128-136. This book is the source of most of the information cited here regarding the inclusion of a part of on the World Heritage list.

Retour vers la note de texte 17047


Caroline Haardt, “The Dogon, peuple des falaises,” Courrier de l’Unesco, May 1991, p. 42-45.

Retour vers la note de texte 17048


See a 2012 lecture available online ICOMOS: Lassana Cissé, “Patrimoine et développement local – Le rôle des collectivités territoriales dans la gestion du site des falaises de Bandiagara (Mali),” in ICOMOS 17th General Assembly, 2011, Paris, p. 221-229 (

Retour vers la note de texte 17049


Mali, une Afrique authentique, Bamako, Office malien du tourisme et de l’hôtellerie, 2005, p. 50.

Retour vers la note de texte 17050


See OMATHO’s former website, consultable on

Retour vers la note de texte 17051


Synthesis Commission, “Avant-propos,” Actes de la semaine d’expression culturelle consacrée aux Dogon, Bamako, Ministry of Culture and Communications, 1990, p. 16-17.

Retour vers la note de texte 17052


See the doctoral dissertations of Denis Douyon, Le discours mangu chez the Dogon (Ireli); description, analyse et fonctionnement sociologique, Paris, Inalco, 1995, Abinou Témé, Paganisme et logique du pouvoir dans le tòrò en pays dogon, Paris, EHESS, 1997, and Sidiki Tinta, Les conceptions autour de la transmission de la maladie et les pratiques préventives chez the Dogon du Mali, Marseille, EHESS, 1999.

Retour vers la note de texte 17053


Adame Ba Konaré, “The Griaule School,” Jamana, no 26, April-June 1990, p. 14-16.

Retour vers la note de texte 17056


Marcel Griaule, “Systèmes graphiques des Dogon,” in Marcel Griaule et Germaine Dieterlen, Signes graphiques Sudanais, Paris, Hermann, 1951, p. 7-30.

Retour vers la note de texte 17055


Walter van Beek, “‘Connecting ourselves’: A Dogon ethnic association and the impact of connectivity,” in Miriam de Bruin and Rijk van Dijk (Eds.), The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012, p. 243-264.

Retour vers la note de texte 17054


This former website is parly consultable on

Retour vers la note de texte 17057


See Jacky Bouju, “Tradition et identité. La tradition dogon entre traditionalisme rural et néo-traditionalisme urbain,” Enquête, vol. 2, 1995, p. 95-117.

Retour vers la note de texte 17058


Issa Guindo and Hassan Kansaye, Nous, les Dogons, Le figuier, Bamako, 2000.

Retour vers la note de texte 17060


Bogoum Kassogue, Itinéraire et vie des Dogons, Aubagne, Tabalé solidarité France-Afrique, 2008.

Retour vers la note de texte 17059


Sékou Ogobara Dolo, La mère des masques. Un dogon raconte, Paris, Le Seuil, 2002, p. 23.

Retour vers la note de texte 17061


Abinou Témé, “Repenser Dogon?” in Moussa Konaté and Michel Le Bris (Eds.), Les Mondes dogon, Paris-Daoula, Éditions Hoëbeke-Centre culturel Abbaye Daoulas, 2002, p. 197.

Retour vers la note de texte 17062


Gaetano Ciarcia, De la mémoire ethnographic. L’exotisme du pays dogon, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2003, p. 172.

Retour vers la note de texte 17063


Marcel Griaule, Masques dogons, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, 1938, p. 623 fig. 169b.

Retour vers la note de texte 17064


Journal officiel de la Fédération du Mali, no 1, 25 April 1959, p. 4.

Retour vers la note de texte 17065


Ousmane Sow Huchard, La Culture, ses objets-témoins et l’action muséologique (sémiotique et témoignage d’un objet-témoin: le masque kanaga des Dogons de Sanga), Dakar, Éditions Le Nègre international, 2010, p. 762-763. Regarding the meaning of the kanaga on the flag of the Fédération du Mali, see Léopold Sédar Senghor, Liberté II. Nation et voie africaine du socialisme, Paris, Le Seuil, 1971, p. 258 et 270.

Retour vers la note de texte 17066


The web page covering “la présentation du logo du G.R.I.N.” is no longer present on the group’s current website, but it was archived on 27 September 2011:

Retour vers la note de texte 17070


Rosa Jorio, “Narratives of the Nation and Democracy in Mali: A view from Modibo Keita’s Memorial,” Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. XLIII (4), no 172, 2003, p. 834.

Retour vers la note de texte 17069


Alpha Oumar Konaré and Bernard Cattanéo, Un Africain du Mali, Paris, Cauris éditions, 2004, p. 98.

Retour vers la note de texte 17068


Adame Ba Konaré, Histoire, démocratie, valeurs: les nouvelles lignes de réflexion, Dakar, CODESRIA, 2008, p. 16.

Retour vers la note de texte 17067


Discours du Président Amadou Toumani Touré devant l’Assemblée régionale de Rhône-Alpes, 24 October 2007:

Retour vers la note de texte 17071


Ousmane Sy, Ambroise Dakouo, and Kadari Traoré, Dialogue national au Mali. Leçons de la Conférence Nationale de 1991 pour le processus de sortie de crise, Berlin, Berghof Foundation, 2016, p. 9 (online, consulted March 1, 2021).

Retour vers la note de texte 17072


See Léon Niangaly, Les Contes du Togouna. Contes de Séno, Bamako, Donniya, 2000; Denis Dougnon, “L’œil d’un Dogon sur l’avenir de sa culture,” Aide et action, vol. 103, 2007, p. 14-15; Denis Douyon, Parlons dogon. Langue et culture tɔrɔsɔ d’Ireli (Mali), Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010, p. 169-170.

Retour vers la note de texte 17073


Oumar Karambé, Le Temps d’un appel, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2018, p. 71-75; Adame Ba Konaré, Histoire, démocratie, valeurs: les nouvelles lignes de réflexion, Dakar, CODESRIA, 2008, p. 16.

Retour vers la note de texte 17074


When Dogon Country was included in the “red zone” in 2011 by European foreign affairs ministries, all touristic activity abruptly ended. Since the North of the country has been occupied by Tuareg rebel groups, and later by jihadists, since 2012, Mali has descended into a profound crisis associated with repeated coups d’état, crumbling State authority, border threats, permanently redeployed Islamist forces, rampant insecurity, and murders and attacks in the North and center of the country. Conflicts between Fulani shepherds and Dogon farmers, impacted by the situation in the North and by jihadist groups, have intensified. In addition to raiding and burning villages, there have been frequent murderous assaults on towns and croplands. Economic activity is at a standstill, and the government has little to no presence in the area. Created in 2016, the Dana Ambassagou militia is a Dogon self-defense group claiming to be descended from hunters’ societies.

Arnaud Robert, « Le dernier épisode de la conquête du soudan français (l’affaire de Tabi) », Renseignements coloniaux, supplément du Bulletin mensuel du Comité de l’Afrique française et du Comité du Maroc, 32e année, n° 8, 1922, p. 201-239.

Ba Konaré Adame, « L’école Griaule », Jamana, n° 26, avril-juin 1990, p. 14-16.


—, Histoire, démocratie, valeurs : les nouvelles lignes de réflexion, Dakar, CODESRIA, 2008.

Bazin Jean, Des clous dans la Joconde. L’anthropologie autrement, Toulouse, Anacharsis, 2008.

Beek Walter van, « “Connecting ourselves”: A dogon ethnic association and the impact of connectivity », in M. de Bruin, R. van Dijk (dir.), The Social Life of Connectivity in Africa, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012, p. 243-264.

Bouju Jacky, Graine de l’homme, enfant du mil, Paris, Société d’ethnographie, 1984.


—, « Tradition et identité. La tradition dogon entre traditionalisme rural et néo-traditionalisme urbain », Enquête, n° 2, 1995, p. 95-117.

Calame-Griaule Geneviève, Ethnologie et langage. La parole chez les Dogon, Paris, Gallimard, 1965.

Ciarcia Gaetano, De la mémoire ethnographique, L’exotisme du pays dogon, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2003.

Cissé Lassana, « Patrimoine et développement local : le rôle des collectivités territoriales dans la gestion du site des falaises de Bandiagara (Mali) », in ICOMOS 17th General Assembly, 2011, Paris, p. 221-229 [en ligne].

Clifford James, Malaise dans la culture. Ethnographie, littérature et art du XXe siècle, Paris, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1996 [1988].

Commission de synthèse, « Avant-propos », Actes de la semaine d’expression culturelle consacrée aux Dogon, Bamako, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, 1990, p. 7-18.

Dolo Sékou Ogobara, La Mère des masques. Un dogon raconte, Paris, Le Seuil, 2002.

Doquet Anne, Les Masques dogon. Ethnologie savante et ethnologie autochtone, Paris, Karthala, 1999.


—, « La nature dogon ? Patrimonialisation culturelle et écotourisme en pays dogon », in M.-C. Cormier-Salem, D. Juhé-Beaulaton, J. Boutrais, B. Roussel (dir.), Patrimonialiser la nature tropicale. Dynamiques, enjeux internationaux, II, Paris, Éditions de l’IRD, 2005, p. 395-418.

Dougnon Denis, « L’œil d’un Dogon sur l’avenir de sa culture », Aide et action, n° 103, 2007, p. 14-15.

Douyon Denis, Le discours mangu chez les Dogon (Ireli) : description, analyse et fonctionnement sociologique, thèse de doctorat sous la direction de Jean Derive, Paris, Inalco, 1995.


—, Parlons dogon. Langue et culture tɔrɔsɔ d’Ireli (Mali), Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010.

Fawtier Maurice, « Le cercle de Bandiagara », Renseignements coloniaux et documents (supplément de l’Afrique française), vol. 24, n° 2, 1914, p. 68-75.

Griaule Marcel, Masques dogons, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, 1938.


—, Dieu d’eau. Entretiens avec Ogotemmêli, Paris, Les Éditions du Chêne, 1948.


—, « Réflexions sur les religions noires », Tropiques, n° 316, 1949, p. 53-55.


—, « Systèmes graphiques des Dogon », in M. Griaule et G. Dieterlen, Signes graphiques soudanais, Paris, Hermann, 1951, p. 7-30.


—, « Connaissance de l’homme noir », in La connaissance de l’homme au XXe siècle, Neuchâtel, Éditions de la Baconière, 1952, p. 11-24.


—, « Le problème de la culture noire », in L’Originalité des cultures, son rôle dans la compréhension internationale, Paris, Unesco, 1953, p. 374-401.


—, Marcel Griaule conseiller de l’Union française, Paris, Nouvelles éditions latines, 1957.


—, Dieterlen Germaine, « Un système soudanais de Sirius », Journal de la Société des africanistes, vol. XX, n° 2, 1950, p. 273-294.


—, Le Renard pâle, Paris, Institut d’ethnologie, 1965.

Guindo Issa, Kansaye Hassan, Nous les Dogons, Bamako, Le figuier, 2000.

Haardt Caroline, « Les Dogon, peuple des falaises », Courrier de l’Unesco, mai 1991, p. 42-45.

Jolly Éric, « Dogon virtuels et contre-cultures », L’Homme, n° 211, 2004, p. 41-74.


—, « Des jeux aux mythes : le parcours ethnographique de Marcel Griaule », Gradhiva, n° 9, 2009, p. 164-187.


—, « Les notes de terrain de Marcel Griaule : enregistrer et ordonner une société », in Christian Jacob (dir.), Lieux de savoir 2. Les mains de l’intellect, Paris, Albin Michel, 2011, p. 312-332.


—, « Circulation planétaire du masque dogon kanaga », in M. Cros, J. Bondaz (dir.), Afriques au figuré. Images migrantes, Paris, Éditions des archives contemporaines, 2013, p. 19-35.


—, « La tradition orale en image : genèse de deux emblèmes culturels dogon », in G. Ciarcia, É. Jolly (dir.), Métamorphoses de l’oralité entre écrit et image, Paris-Montpellier, Karthala-MSH-Montpellier, 2015, p. 111-128.


—, « Ethnologie de sauvegarde et politique coloniale : les engagements de Marcel Griaule », Journal des africanistes, vol. 89, n° 1, 2019, p. 6-31. Karambé Oumar, Le Temps d’un appel, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2018.

Jorio Rosa, « Narratives of the Nation and Democracy in Mali: A view from Modibo Keita’s Memorial », Cahiers d’études africaines, vol. XLIII (4), n° 172, 2003, p. 827-855.

Journal officiel de la Fédération du Mali, n° 1, 25 avril 1959.

Kassogue Bogoum, Itinéraire et vie des Dogons, Aubagne, Tabalé solidarité France-Afrique, 2008.

Konaré Alpha Oumar, Bernard Cattanéo, Un Africain du Mali, Paris, Cauris éditions, 2004.

Leiris Michel, L’Afrique fantôme, Paris, Gallimard, 1934.

L’Estoile Benoît de, « Au nom des “vrais Africains”. Les élites scolarisées de l’Afrique coloniale face à l’anthropologie (1930-1950) », Terrain, n° 28, 1997, p. 87-102.

Niangaly Léon, Les Contes du Togouna. Contes de Séno, Bamako, Donniya, 2000.

OMATHO, Mali, une Afrique authentique, Bamako, Office malien du tourisme et de l’hôtellerie, 2005.

Renaudeau Michel, Au cœur du Mali, Bamako-Paris, Commissariat au tourisme-Éditions Delroisse, 1976.

Senghor Léopold Sédar, Liberté II. Nation et voie africaine du socialisme, Paris, Le Seuil, 1971.

Soundjata, dossier « Le tourisme malien en question », Soundjata, n° 12, 1979.

Sow Huchard Ousmane, La Culture, ses objets-témoins et l’action muséologique (sémiotique et témoignage d’un objet-témoin : le masque kanaga des Dogons de Sanga), Dakar, Éditions Le Nègre international, 2010.

Sy Ousmane, Dakouo Ambroise, Traoré Kadari, Dialogue national au Mali. Leçons de la Conférence Nationale de 1991 pour le processus de sortie de crise, Berlin, Berghof Foundation, 2016 [en ligne].

Tai Li-Chuan, L’Anthropologie française entre sciences coloniales et décolonisation (1880-1960), Paris, Publications de la Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 2010.

Témé Abinou, Paganisme et logique du pouvoir dans le tòrò en pays dogon, thèse de doctorat sous la direction de Jean-Loup Amselle, Paris, EHESS, 1997. 


—, « Repenser Dogon ? », in M. Konaté, M. Le Bris (dir.), Les Mondes dogon, Paris-Daoulas, Éditions Hoëbeke-Centre culturel Abbaye Daoulas, 2002, p. 194-197.

Tinta Sidiki, Les conception autour de la transmission de la maladie et les pratiques préventives chez les Dogon du Mali, thèse de doctorat sous la direction de Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Marseille, EHESS, 1999.

Touquet Cédric, Mésententes, discordes et autres histoires. Une anthropologie du conflit en milieu périurbain (Bandiagara, Mali), thèse de doctorat (sous la direction de Jacky Bouju), Aix-Marseille Université, 2009.