Dogon Village Healing Pot

  • Tribe: Dogon
  • Origin: Mopti, Mali
  • Approx Age: at least 50 years old
  • Materials: wood
  • Dimensions cm: 181 tall x 40 wide
  • Ref. Number: M0587

An exquisite and huge Dogon village healing pot collected from a village near Mopti. This beautiful piece of Dogon artistry stands at 181cm tall and 40cm wide at the base. This pot with the warrior on the lid is the village healing pot and is to treat the villagers who became sick with herbal medicines which were made within the pot and then given to the patient whilst calling upon the ancestors to help.

The pot starting at the base consists of a finely carved criss-cross design around the base, to which the first set of figures stand. The figures start with a seated primordial couple (male and female in arms), a female, male and another female seated together then two seated males together. On top of these is another disc with the same decoration as the base with 7 crouching male and female figures standing on it. Standing on the figures heads is another disc with decoration and on top are 6 snakes “Lebe” underneath and coming up the sides of the decorated bowl coming up to the 3 chameleon / frog? figures. Then we have the lid with the Dogon warrior on horseback and originally holding a spear which has sadly been lost at some point in its life. This pot is carved from one piece of wood up as far as the lid.

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This is  a very rare find, for one, is the logistics of the piece from the remote village it was collected from, and two, is that even until this day items of such traditional value to the elders of the Dogon are items that they would rather not sell. The majority of the Dogon have now converted to the Islamic religion and these pots now have less value (traditionally)to the younger generation and as radical extremists are spreading through Dogon villages burning and destroying Dogon artefacts these items are now being allowed to be sold by the elders when possible rather than having them destroyed.

Dogon Masks, Dogon Pots, Dogon Figure Dogon Stool, Dogon Tabouret

Typical Dogon village women and children pounding millet.

Dogon art presents a broad range of object types and styles. Among the human figures alone, some are well over life-size, while others are barely a few inches in height. Their repertoire of gestures is also varied, and includes figures standing, kneeling, sitting, or riding, raising one or both arms in a variety of poses, and holding or wearing articles related to their gender, age, occupation, or social status. In style they vary from full-volumed, sensitively modelled sculptures that are highly descriptive in their details to works that are reduced to abstract geometric shapes stripped of all but the barest references to human anatomy. The surfaces of Dogon sculptures also suggest that they are treated in a variety of ways and may therefore have a range of meanings. While some works are smooth, oiled, and polished, others are thickly coated with sacrificial materials, sometimes to the point of obscuring their sculptural form. The range of styles and imagery seen in Dogon sculpture suggests that they embody richer and more varied references than the simple identification as images of Nommo would encompass. Even if the ultimate meaning of Dogon art depends upon the concept of Nommo, as Griaule and Dieterlen and their followers propose, this meaning can only be enriched by adding to it the many other levels of meaning that arise from the particular settings in which the objects are located.

Dogon House

The Dogon place wood figures depicting men and women on many different kinds of altars, most of which are dedicated to ancestors, either real or mythical. Although figurative sculptures, called dege, are perhaps the most interesting types of Dogon art, varied in form and rich in imagery, they are also among the least well documented. Few altars have been described in detail or illustrated; those that have been described do not suggest any consistent pattern linking a particular style of figure or a specific posture or gesture with any one kind of altar.

There is also little information with which to identify the persons represented by the figures. Each lineage possesses an altar containing figurative sculpture, which is dedicated to its founders and to subsequent members who have died, known as vageu. In recounting the myth of the first person to die in human form, Griaule tells of how a wooden sculpture representing the dead man was carved in order to provide a support for his soul and his vital force (nyama), which were released at his death. The figure was placed on the man’s rooftop terrace along with a pottery bowl for libations. As death spread throughout the land, similar figures and bowls were placed on altars established by each lineage (Griaule, 1938: 171-72; Dieterlen, 1941: 18,22, 140; also Desplagnes, 1907:273). Photographs and drawings of vageu altars show rather simplified, even cylindrical, stick like figures leaning against the wall of the shrine (Dieterlen, 1941: pis. Vb and Vc, fig. 10). Along with the figures one also sees pottery bowls and small cups in which sacrificial liquids are offered to the ancestors and small notched ladders so the spirits can climb to the rooftop altar; iron hooks (gobo), cylinders of red ocher, iron ornaments, and pots of roots soaking in water are kept there also and are used in healing. Sacrifices are performed collectively on all these objects at planting and harvest times, as well as by individuals who have inherited the souls of particular ancestors. The altars are kept in the ginna, or lineage head’s house, of which there are several in each village. An altar can be found on the upper story of the house, in a corner of the living quarters, in the granary, in the courtyard, or even in a separate structure nearby (Paulme, 1940: 109-11; Dieterlen, 1941: 141-47).

Dogon social and religious organizations are closely interlinked and out of this arose principal cults, which accounts for the richness and diversity of Dogon culture and art. The clans are subdivided onto lineages, overseen by the patriarch, guardian of the clan’s ancestral shrine and officiant at the totemic animal cult. Beside this hierarchical system of consanguinity, male and female associations are entrusted with the initiations that take place by age group, corresponding to groups of newly circumcised or excised boys or girls. The Dogon believe these operations remove the female element from males and vice versa. Circumcision thus creates a wholly male or female person prepared to assume an adult role. The members of an age group owe one another assistance until the day they die. Initiation of boys begins after their circumcision, with the teaching of the myths annotated by drawings and paintings. The young boys will learn the place of humans in nature, society, and the universe. In the Dogon pantheon Amma appears as the original creator of all the forces of the universe and of his descendant Lebe, the god of plant rebirth. The first Dogon primordial ancestors, called Nommo, were bisexual water gods. They were created in heaven by the creator god Amma and descended from heaven to earth in an ark. The Nommo founded the eight Dogon lineages and introduced weaving, smithing, and agriculture to their human descendants.

For these various cults the hogon is both priest and political chief of the village. He is also in charge of the cult of lebe, the mythical serpent. Assisted by the blacksmith, he presides over agrarian ceremonies. The smiths and woodcarvers, who form a separate caste, transmit their profession by heredity. They may only marry within their own caste. Women are in charge of pottery making.