Dogon mask

History and meaning

Mali - West Africa

Kananga & Walu mask
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(Kananga) Kanaga Mask- Dogon tribe.

dogonmask_SLF_1163.jpg (56486 bytes)Kananga masks form geometric patterns. These masks represent the first human beings and are normally made by carvers of the Awa society. The masks are worn during the Dama dancing ceremonies The Dogon believe that the Dama dance creates a bridge into the supernatural world. Without the Dama dance, the dead cannot cross over into peace.

Typical characteristic of this mask is the dual cross with short bars extending up across the top piece and down on the bottom piece. The top portion of the vertical bar sometimes bear an animal, human or abstract figure. The masks are normally painted white and black. Common features are the rectangular face, thin long nose and large eyeholes.

Every five years, Dama memorial ceremonies are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. During the Dama celebration, Youdiou villagers circle around stilt dancers. The dance and costumes imitate a long-legged water bird. The dancers execute difficult steps while teetering high above the crowd. Through such rituals, the Dogon believe that the benevolent force of the ancestor is transmitted to them.

Their self-defense comes from their social solidarity, which is based on a complex combination of philosophic and religious dogmas, the fundamental law being the worship of ancestors. Ritual masks and corpses are used for ceremonies and are kept in caves. The Dogons are both Muslims and Animists.

Walu Mask

This type of mask is also geometric in shape with a rectangular face, long straight nose triangular shaped eyeholes, and round pouted mouth and long horns that appears to look like ears. The mask depicts a mythical antelope known as Walu. According to legend God Amma assigned Walu, to protect the sun from Yurugu (Fox).

The Dogon uses the Walu masks during ceremonies to commemorate the origin of death. According to their myths, the Dogon's worship ancestors and communicate through the spirits. They also make agricultural sacrifices during these rituals. All major Dogon scared sites are believed to be a Dogon myth of the creation of the world, in particular to a deity named Nommo. Binu shrines house spirits of mythic ancestors who lived in the legendary era before the appearance of death among mankind. Binu spirits often make themselves known to their descendants in the form of an animal that interceded on behalf of the clan during its founding or migration, thus becoming the clan's totem. Dogon believe that death came into the world as a result of primeval man's transgressions against the divine order.

The Dogon an ethnic group are mainly located in the administrative districts of Bandiagara and Douentza in Mali, West Africa. There are approximately 700 Dogon villages, with an average of 400 inhabitants. During the hot season, the Dogon sleep on the roofs of their earthen homes. The tribe's folk call themselves 'Dogon' or 'Dogom', but in the older literature they are most often called 'Habe', a Fulbe meaning 'stranger'. Millet Harvest - Dogon women pound millet in the village of Kani Kombal. Millet is of vital importance to the Dogon. They sow millet in June and July, after the rains begin. The millet is harvested in October.

The precise origins of the Dogon people, like those of many other ancient cultures, are not yet determined. Their civilization emerged, in much the same way as ancient Egypt. Around 1490 AD the Dogon people migrated to the Bandiagara cliffs of central Mali.

The religious beliefs of the Dogon are enormously complex and knowledge varies greatly within Dogon society. The religion is defined primarily through the worship of ancestors and spirits. There are three principal cults among the Dogon; the Awa, Lebe and Binu.

  1. The Awa is a cult of the dead, whose purpose is to reorder the spiritual forces disturbed by the death of Nommo, a mythological ancestor of great importance to the Dogon. Members of the Awa cult dance with ornate carved and painted masks during both funeral and death anniversary ceremonies. There are 78 different types of ritual masks among the Dogon and their iconographic messages go beyond the aesthetic, into the realm of religion and philosophy. The primary purpose of Awa dance ceremonies is to lead souls of the deceased to their final resting place in the family altars and to consecrate their passage to the ranks of the ancestors.
  2. The cult of Lebe, the Earth God, is primarily concerned with the agricultural cycle and its chief priest is called a Hogon. Each Dogon village have a Lebe shrine with an altar that have bits of earth incorporated into them to encourage the continued fertility of the land. According to Dogon beliefs, the god Lebe visits the Hogons every night in the form of a serpent and licks their skins in order to purify them and infuse them with life force. The hogons are responsible for guarding the purity of the soil and therefore officiate at many agricultural ceremonies.
  3. The cult of Binu is a totemic practice and it has complex associations with the Dogon's sacred places namely; spirit communication ancestor worship, and agricultural sacrifices. Binu shrines house spirits of ancestors who lived before the appearance of death among mankind. Binu spirits often emerged to descendants in the form of an animal that interceded on behalf of the clan during its founding or migration, the vision will be become the clan's totem. The priests of each Binu maintain the sanctuaries whose facades are often painted with graphic signs and mystic symbols. Sacrifices of blood and millet porridge are made at the Binu shrines at sowing time and whenever the intercession of the immortal ancestor is desired.

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