Large Dogon primordial couple statue
- Tribe: Dogon
- Origin: Mali
- Approx Age: Early 20th Century
- Materials: Wood
- Dimensions cm: 140 tall x 40 wide CM
- Ref. Number: 0308
A very large and stunning Dogon primordial couple statue, this beautiful early 20th Century piece has real impact standing at 140cms tall. This was from an old collection of a now sadly deceased UK collector. The style of this piece states that this is the craftsmanship of the Bombu-Toro, southern part of the Bandiagara Cliffs.
This statue represents one of the more mysterious subject matters in Dogon art. A couple that sit upon a chief’s stool, which is surrounded with caryatid figures, there for represented as dignitaries. They are depicted as equals on the same level, the male resting his hand on the woman’s breast. Although such equality between the sexes was absent from daily life, symbolically, it suggests procreation and the continuity of the lineage, an essential aspect of Dogon society. While the basic subject of this sculpture is easily understood, the meaning of the work is open to scholarly debate.
Although once referred to as a “primordial couple,” this attribution seems unlikely since this concept does not exist in Dogon religion. Some Dogon tribesmen have suggested, instead, that it represents mythical twins of opposite sex, symbolic of the perfect union spawned from the world egg of the creator god Amma. In this legend, the male of the twins, named Nommo, left the egg prematurely and wandered the heavens and earth in solitude, searching for his female counterpart. Thus, this sculpture might depict the reunification of Nommo and his twin sister. According to other tribesmen, this sculpture might be a depiction of the ideal marriage of ancient times, that between a uterine uncle and his niece. According to Dogon mythology, again relating to the Nommo myth, marriages were originally between twins, and all births resulted in twins.
When Nommo abandoned the womb prematurely, he carried with him a bit of placenta that rotted away and became the earth. When searching for his sister, he traversed the bowels of the earth, viewed as an act of incest between a son and his mother. Thus, incest became forbidden and strictly taboo. Perhaps then, this sculpture represents the incest taboo. Although the meaning of this sculpture can be endlessly debated, its beauty and delicate refinement cannot be denied. Scarifications, delicately engraved onto the surface of the wood, cover their faces, stomachs and shoulders. Their elaborate coiffures have been carefully depicted with crested braids and engraved lines suggesting the texture of the individual strands of hair. Although a stunning work of art that we appreciate for its beauty, this sculpture no doubt had a more important mythological meaning to the Dogon tribe who created it that has unfortunately been lost to us over time.
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.