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Dogon tribe of Mali’ One People, Many Mysteries – Africa Facts Zone

Story Highlights

  • Dogon Tribe: Brief History
  • Dogon Tribe: Mystery System & Astronomical Knowledge
  • The Nommo Cult
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The Dogon are a tribe that lives in a desert land of Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso. There is some doubt as to the correct classification of the many dialects of the Dogon language; the language has been placed in the Mande, Gur, and other branches of the Niger-Congo language family, but its relationship to other languages of the family, if any, is uncertain. The Dogon number about 600,000, and the majority of them live in the rocky hills, mountains, and plateaus of the Bandiagara Escarpment.

They are mainly an agricultural people; their few craftsmen, largely metalworkers and leatherworkers, form distinct castes. They have no centralized system of government but live in villages composed of patrilineages and extended families whose head is the senior male descendant of the common ancestor. Polygyny is practiced but reportedly has a low incidence.

Dogon Tribe Brief History

The ancestors of the Dogon tribe came from Mande, an area in southwest Mali and northeast Guinea that was home to the thirteenth-century Mali empire. The Dogon tribe migrated after the empire’s collapse to the cliffs of the Bandiagara plateau.

The cliffs and rocky terrain provided excellent protection from slave raiders coming from the desert, but they also isolated communities, resulting in at least 32 dialects; many are now mutually incomprehensible. After the French arrived in 1893, slave raids ended, and the Dogon expanded into the plains around the plateau. This migration severed the Dogon from their religious sites, paving the way for Islam and Christianity.

In Bandiagara 80 percent of the population is Dogon. Neighboring tribes include the Peul, the agricultural Mossi, and the Bobo and Bozo, whose main livelihood is fishing. Of the 700 Dogon settlements, most have fewer than 500 inhabitants; only six have more than 2,000. The Dogon population has quadrupled over the last 60 years to 300,000 with many Dogon living away from the traditional protection of the cliffs. There is a strip of arable land along the base of the cliffs, but the temperature can reach over 11°F, and sometimes 80 percent of rainfall on the plains evaporates before the soil can absorb it. There are two main seasons, a dry season lasting from January to May and a wet season from June to mid-October. The area receives only 20 to 28 inches of rain each year.

Dogon tribe of Mali' One People, Many Mysteries - Africa Facts Zone

Dogon Tribe: Mystery System & Astronomical Knowledge

The Dogon tribe have become popularized for their ancient tales on human origins and extraterrestrial contact. According to legend, a race of beings called Nommo, came from the star system Sirius, thousands of years ago. The beings are said to have come to Earth and provided humans with knowledge.  They gave the Dogon information about their solar system as well as our own. These same creatures also appear in Babylonian and Sumerian myths.

Many researchers have already discussed the range of mysteries that surround these people, but what interests us particularly for the development of the hypotheses contained in this article is their complex cosmogony, based on faith in a creative god, Amma, and in a creation produced by the movements of the “Egg of the World”.

On the basis of these beliefs, the “Nommo”, the eight pro-genitors of the Dogon, brought to Earth a basket containing the clay necessary to build the grain stores of their villages. This image, which at first sight appears quite simple and devoid of particular significance, hides in reality a very profound knowledge of the universe and of the celestial bodies.

The granary represents the universe, its scales symbolize both the males and females that generated the Dogon and the various stars and constellations: in this sense we will find the Pleiades in the north, Orion in the south, and a comet in the west. So, everything started with a “basket”, or container, that carried life.

Astronomical Knowledge

Despite the Dogon tribe having come into contact with our civilization in fairly recent times (about the beginning of the century), they possessed incredible scientific and astronomical knowledge. Some of this knowledge was certainly the result of a cultural heritage that is ancient & millennia old, but one element in particular has decidedly current characteristics – the detailed knowledge of the star Sirius.

The Dogon tribe were in fact aware of the fact that Sirius is a binary system (i.e. a system consisting of two stars, Sirius A and Sirius B); they were aware of the fact that Sirius B revolves around Sirius A with an elliptical orbit and over a period corresponding to 50 years; and the most disconcerting discovery was that the Dogon knew the exact position of Sirius A within the ellipse.

The amazement arises from the fact that it was only in 1862 when the American astronomer Alvan Clark deduced the existence of Sirius B using a telescope, among the most advanced for that era, and it was not before 1970 that there was confirmation of the existence of this star, not to mention a photograph of it.

Yet the Dogon knew of it hundreds of years before, and not only that, they called Sirius B with the name of “Po Tolo”; this name is certainly the most apt and shocking way to describe this system, the term Tolo, in fact, means star, while Po refers to a typical cereal that has the characteristic of being extremely heavy despite its small size; an expression, therefore, very close to reality since Sirius B is a white dwarf and, as such, has a very high density.

All this information is practically inaccessible without adequate astronomical equipment, and it is useless to specify that the Dogon had never come into possession of any such instrument, they even ignored its existence.

But the mystery does not end here, the Dogon, in fact, used to represent the planet Saturn as surrounded by a sort of halo, thus demonstrating that they knew of its rings; moreover, they knew that the planet Jupiter had around “four companions”, which correspond exactly to its four main moons.

Dogon tribe of Mali' One People, Many Mysteries - Africa Facts Zone

They also depicted the Earth as a sphere and knew that this sphere revolves around its axis, and together with other spheres (the planets), around the sun; last, but not least, it is surprising that the Dogon, or in any case the elders of the village, described our galaxy as an immense spiral shape. We know very well that this concept began to be disclosed by Western astronomers only at the beginning of this century.

For the Dogon tribe, Sirius B was the first star created by God and it represents the fulcrum of the Universe. All matter developed from it, including souls, following a complex spiral motion – the same that is symbolized in the intertwined baskets.

Saturn is surrounded by rings, Jupiter has four main moons, and four calendars are used: one for the Sun, one for the Moon, one for Sirius, and one for Venus. Needless to say, that the Dogon believe a truth attested from ancient times – the fact that the planets orbit around the Sun.

The Dogon know what, logically, they should not know; their knowledge is not the result of ancient legacies acquired by observing the sky and the stars with the naked eye, as happened in other civilizations, they simply “know”; this is the most disturbing part of the Dogon mystery.

The Nommo Cult

An old Dogon legend tells of when the God of the universe, Amma, sent the Nommo to earth. This was a half-man, half-amphibian creature which landed in the land of the Fox, a territory northeast of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region; the Nommo was red, but when it touched the ground it became white.

Dogon tribe of Mali' One People, Many Mysteries - Africa Facts Zone

The name Nommo derives from a Dogon word that translates as “to do well”; much more often, however, this is remembered as “The Master of Water” (perhaps a reference to the fact that the Nommo could not survive out of water), the Admonitor, or the Destroyer.

We do not know exactly how this figure can be placed in the various events that characterized the growth of the Dogon culture, but it is not so difficult to identify other very similar creatures in different cultures – not only geographically distant but also with respect to various historical moments.

The same type of creature is present in a history of Mesopotamia written during the III Century BC from the priest Beroso; his name was Oannes, his body was similar to that of a fish, he lived only in water, and had feet similar to those of man. Are these images referring to the same event?

In any case, this ancient, almost primordial figure occupies a prominent place in all African cultures; not infrequently, for example, in the most internal areas of Africa. People belonging to monotheistic religions turn to the priests of the various villages because in situations of extreme difficulty they invoke the assistance of the Nommo.

Finally, let us not forget the God fish Dagon of the Philistines, and the same symbol of the fish which the first Christians used to represent their deity. Whoever or whatever it was, the Nommo still continues to lengthen its shadow on African territory, perhaps as a messenger waiting to be able to reveal ancient truths to those who have the courage and the predisposition of mind to listen to it.

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