Dogon Crocodile Mask
- Tribe: Dogon
- Origin: Mali
- Approx Age: early - mid 20th Century
- Materials: wood, pigment
- Dimensions cm: 40 tall x 16 wide, 67 tall on stand
- Ref. Number: 0064
A superb Dogon Crocodile mask with a surmounted kneeling female figure, very aged and weathered with original styled markings still visible in places and with provenance from the Christopher Harrington collection. This lovely old mask has its own custom made stand.
Local Dogon historians explain the first man who came here found paradise trees, rabbits, water everywhere. But they also found dangerous things here such as the crocodiles.
No one knows how the crocodiles got there because they are miles away from the nearest rivers. Some allege that is the work of god because they have been there since the time their ancestors got there. Perhaps god did put them there and indeed they did find a sympathetic home with the Dogon. Crocodiles and Dogon’s have a unique understanding in Dogon. The Dogon’s feed the crocodiles. They are the totem of the village and it is forbidden to harm them and kill them. During the rainy season when there is drought the Dogon shaman asks for the crocodiles blessing and 2-3 days later it rains. For the Dogon every rock plant and animal is powerful spirit that must be respected.
According to Marcel Griaule the Dogon have 78 different styled masks and with the crocodile mask there are different variations, there is this style and also a larger head mask known as the Waka Kakada mask shown in the photos.
The crocodile is a sacred animal within the Dogon tribe and it was believed to have led the Dogon people to water during their mythical journey across Africa. The Dogon were on their way to their current homeland, which is called “Falaise de Bandiagara.”
The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture. The past century has seen significant changes in the social organization, material culture and beliefs of the Dogon, partly because Dogon country is one of Mali’s major tourist attractions and that the Dogon now have mostly converted to Muslim belief.
As I mentioned earlier in this listing, there are nearly eighty styles of Dogon masks, and for the most part they all utilize the use of various geometric shapes in their design, independent of the various animals they are supposed to represent. Most masks have large geometric eyes and stylized features and are often painted or coloured with various substances. The Dogon continue an ancient masquerading tradition called “Dama” which commemorates the origin of death. Dama memorial ceremonies
are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. In these ceremonies there are a large number of performers, often a few hundred, and it is considered absolutely necessary to the ceremony. In the case of the dama, the timing, types of masks involved, and other ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in locations only several miles distant. The masks also appear during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of a male Dogon.