An ethnic group indigenous to the central plateau region of Mali is the Dogon People in West Africa. With a population of 400,000 to 800,000, the Dogon people speak the Dogon languages, which have at least five distinct groups of dialects.
The Dogon people reside by the Bandiagara Escarpment, a sandstone cliff of about 500 meters (1,600ft) high stretching about 150km (90 miles). The villages were established in the Bandiagara area a thousand years ago as a result of the people’s collective refusal to convert to Islam, which made them retract from areas controlled by Muslims.
The most ancient dialects are the Dymasay and Tombo, and Dymasay is most frequently used for traditional prayers and ritual chants. They also have a secret ritual language called the Language Sigi so, meaning the Language of Sigi. The language is taught to dignitaries – “Olubaru” – of the society of the Masks during their enthronement at the Sigui ceremony.
The Dogon people are best known for their religious traditions, mask dances, wooden sculpture, and architecture. The Dogon are mainly agriculturalists and mostly cultivate millet, sorghum, rice, onions, tobacco, peanuts and other vegetables.
The Dogon has a spiritual head called the Hogon, who is also the political leader of the village. The Hogon is elected from among the oldest men of the dominant lineage of the village.
The Marriage Traditions
In the Dogon culture, they practice monogamous and polygamous marriages, monogamous marriages are more common. The kind of polygamy they practice is the nonsororal polygamous marriage where a man can have more than one wife but with a limit of two wives. The first marriages are usually arranged by parents, and those marrying for the second time have the liberty of choosing their partners.
In a polygamous home, the wives live in separate houses within the husband’s compound and the Iya Biru (first wife) occupies a higher position in the family respective to any wives from later marriages. A wife only joins her husband’s household after she bore her first child.
In early marriages, a wife may leave her husband before the birth of their first child but after the couple has had children together, divorce is a rare and serious matter as it requires the attention of the entire village. Divorce mostly occurs in polygamous marriages; the woman is allowed to take only the youngest among her children in the event of divorce and leaves the remaining children as part of the husband’s household. Also, marriages are endogamous as people are limited to marrying only persons within their clan and caste.