Dogon Togu na Post

  • Tribe: Dogon
  • Origin: Mali, Bamako region
  • Approx Age: 20th Century
  • Materials: wood
  • Dimensions cm: 163 tall x 37 wide
  • Ref. Number: M0572

A stunning Dogon Togu na post from the Bamako region of Mali. Weathered with age but still in very good condition with only deterioration to the base that has been under ground. Standing at 5 1/2 feet tall this Dogon Togu na post has a lovely presence.

Togu na

When a new village is being built the first building to go up in each district is the Togu na. Its position is chosen by the chief, usually respecting an anthropomorphic plan, with the Togu na as the head and the district as the body of a man laying down.

The Togu na is therefore a basic element in the Dogon village,  not just as a physical building but as an associated reference point for the whole village. The numerous functions which take place under the shelter of the Togu na include: the administering of justice, the fixing of the agricultural calendar, emergency interventions (famine, epidemics, natural disasters) administrative decisions ( taxes and any expenses involving the community ). And moreover the Togu na is a meeting place, a place for teaching and working, for rest and conversation. Togu means shelter ( referring more precisely to the roof) na means ” big”, ” great” or “mother” therefore the Togu na is the “great shelter” or ” the mother shelter”. The Dogon also refer to it as ” house of words” ( words uttered in the Togu na take on a value and importance which make them different from any other words), or “the men’s house” (the Togu na is reserved for the men, women being absolutely excluded). The Togu na is usually rectangular in shape with the main axis going from north to south. The main vertical supporting structure is composed of pillars, Togu kubo, the material used for them varies depending on what is available in  a particular place. Wooden beams, laru, (fruit trees must never be used for this purpose) resting on the main pillars form main horizontal structure, and branches, sabu, perpendicular to them form the horizontal structure on top which lies the roof, togu, main of alternative layers of millet stalks, keru (which can grow to a length of six meters), to keep off the sun. The floor depends on the ground it is built on, on the different materials avaiable and on the main function attributed to the Togu na in that particular village: (mimetic look-out post, visual and metaphysical landmark or meeting place).

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The varieties in shape, size and materials used for the floor covering and for the vertical baring structure generally correspond to the variations in the three areas into which the land can be divided geologically: highland area, rocky belt, plain.

In the highland area two very different types of Togu na can be seen. In the older and very isolated villages, where the Togu na serves as a mimetic look-out post, it is built among boulders; fairly flat rock is chosen as its base and any slight unevenness in the surface is used as seating or working surfaces. As rocks like these are obviously irregularly shaped, it is unusual to find a rectangular Togu na, but  the main axis of the polygon is usually north-south and the length of the axes is rarely more than 6 metres by 4. The pillars, in the shape of truncated cones, the diameter at the base of about 50cm forming the baring structure, or built with stones one on top of the other; their height range from 1 .30 to 1 .50 metres.

Photo taken by Tracy Bach from “Simmering Segal”

On the Séno plain the pillars of the Togu na  are made exclusively of kile (Prosopis africana), a very hard wood which is the least likely of the African woods to be attacked by termites and is therefore the most durable.

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The pillars in these Togu na are always, or were originally richly carved with symbols referring to the mythology or life of the community.



Village Madougou, 2009 taken by Maryla Sobek

In the villages on the plain the characteristics of the land make it possible to build perfectly rectangular Togu na.

Often when a pillar is broken or stolen it is replaced with another depicting the same subject as the previous sculpture. In many villages nowadays these beautiful sculptures have been completely defaced, losing their significance and attractiveness purposely to discourage the all to frequent thefts by tourists and antique dealers. With regard to this it is extremely important to realise that the Dogon language ” to cut off a breast” means to rape a woman, therefore the gesture of defacing the images of women in this way mean double destruction : of the commercial value of the sculpture and the emblematic integrity of the woman. To prevent the contaminating of the fertility and fecundity symbol itself through robbery and commerce, they choose to carry out this outrageous mutilation voluntarily so it becomes exorcism against the sacrilegious behaviour of outsiders against the community.

References: “Togu na” written by Tito & Sandro Spini.

Images used from Google images