Dogon Death Rituals


I dedicate the present document to my late father who left me very early, to my elder brother Ogonagalou Dolo who sent me to school and especially to my mother Gamousso Dolo who takes care of me during my school years.

First of all, I thank the Almighty God for giving me the chance to attend this higher level of study.
I would like to express my profound gratitude and my sincere thanks to my supervisor, Mr. Baba Sininta, who has spared no effort to help me to organize and finish this work. I thank all the teachers at FLASH, particularly those of the English department.
It is a really pleasure for me to express here all my sincere gratitude to my mom for all she has done for me from my childhood and for what she is doing till now. I thank my elder brother Ogonagalou Dolo who sent me to school and has supported me all the time.
I would like to thank Mr. Sana Dagui Guindo who accepted me in his family and supported me during my grammar school studies in Bandiagara.
I will never forget my uncle Anidiou Dolo for everything he has been doing for me since my first day in Bamako.
I greet Bagne Dolo, Diono Dolo, Kounidiou Dolo, and Ali Dolo in Sangha and Amadou Dolo, French teacher in the lyceum of Bandiagara for their information they provided to me during my investigation. I don’t forget Leah Henderson and Philippe from the USA, Jean Michel in France, Isabelle De Marto in Belgium who helped with books and ideas. I greet also Matthew Christie and William Steven, my ex-bosses who helped in practicing my English. Nor will I forget Ms. Andrea from the USA, thanks to her I got motivation in English studies. My greetings go to my cousins, friends and classmates of good will who in one way or another helped me in the realization of this work.

Death is a universal natural phenomenon that will occur to every living being: human, animal and vegetal. For sure where there is life there is death. This matter of death has over passed the comprehension of people since the beginning of humanity that is why every human society organizes funeral ceremonies when death occurs. Every society has its manner of organization and the reasons to do funerals.
Here our study focuses on the funeral rites in the Dogon traditional society mainly that of the village Sangha in the circle of Bandiagara.
Before talking of the funeral rites in Sangha we glanced at some traditional African societies through some books to see how their thoughts are about death and how they organize their funerals.
It is the case of the Malinke society in Cote d’Ivoire and the Ibo society in Nigeria. We also glanced at the Senoufo society in Mali. This society is a very rich one in matter of culture. So we have seen their funeral with its multiple rites.
Then we arrived to the main object which is death rituals in Sangha.
But before death, we have talked about the period of sickness and some mythical signs announcing death in the village.
Then, we talk about the steps of a first complicated funeral when a death occurs in Sangha.
We can see that not all traditional deaths have the same funeral rites. Each social status is determined by the deceased.
So we presented the organization and the progression of the burial of an ordinary deceased person, a customary chief of the village and a deceased woman. We also talked about the funerals and the mask festival in Sangha.

Dama: Dangerous, forbidden in Dogon.
Emna: Mask in Dogon.
Fonnijeenri: Ceremony of presentation.
Gbagi: Mother’s descent in the Senoufo society
Hogon: The spiritual and customary chief in the Dogon society.
Kafugi: The public place in Senoufo.
Kucelebele, kudwobele: Name given to an initiated group of people in Senoufo.
Kafugi: The public place in Senoufo.
Kutori: The first funeral in Senoufo.
Kuwaagi: The second funeral.
Nyuyana: Let the death go, but it is the funeral in Dogon.
Kuwaagi: The second funeral.
Pyibbinlemi: Cemetery for kids in Senoufo.
Sangahana: A group a people in charge of person dead from accident burial.
Somon: Cave where people wear their mask.
Sigi: The sixtieth year’s festival in Dogon country.
Yasigi: Sister of masks, the only woman who may get close to the masks.

Death is indeed universal, but just as every culture has found ways of living life differently, each has also found different and sometimes extraordinary ways to deal with dying and the effects that it has on the people left behind. This memoir examines the compelling subject of death, burial in varied cultures and societies. It considers the rituals surrounding death.
Nowadays, anywhere in the world people speak about the Dogons and their culture. Being in the heart of the Dogon country the rural commune of Sangha plays an important role in the protection of the cultural identity. So, our motivation for choosing this topic is to increase our own knowledge about our own culture and through this document, we want to let the whole world and the young generation to know about the importance of Death rituals in the Dogon country and to make the young generation aware of their culture. Our memoir has essentially two parts: the first part is the literature that includes the documents study (we mean here, all the documents we read and which are in relationship with our topic); the second part is practical and has required an investigation in the target place. We have not only done a special travel for the investigation, but being a son of Sangha, we have been partaking simply in death rituals (we mean without taking any note) for many years. But the investigation for this topic permitted us to interview the elders, to take note on paper and make our own observation to get that result.
In fact, the Dogon people are well known of course for the richness of their culture but the literature about death rituals is less abundant, especially in English. Therefore, one of the aims of this topic is to contribute to the development of this literature and to make the death rituals in Sangha more well-known. So here are some questions that we will try to answer during the study of this topic.
1- What is the importance of the death rituals for the Dogon society?
2- What is the importance of the death rituals for the deceased?
We have divided this memoire into two parts. The first part entitled “litereature” has two chapters: The funeral rites in the Malinke Society in Cote d’Ivoire, the Ibo Society in Nigeria and the second chapter is about the funeral rites in the traditional Senoufo Society in Mali. The second part includes five chapters: The first is about the presentation of the rural commune of Sangha; the second is about the period of Sickness and some Omens that announce Death in Sangha; the third chapter is about Death and Burial, then the fourth chapter is about the Funeral Rituals and the fifth and last is about the Mask Dance Festival.
However, this document does not pretend to be an exhaustive story of Death Rituals in Dogon country but we hope it can serve us a reference for further studies on this topic later.


Death is a natural phenomenon that spares no living being. It has puzzled human comprehension from the past to the present. This is why every human society has taken death into consideration by organizing funeral ceremonies with a multitude of rites. These rites differ from each other according to country, ethnic group, time or creed of community.
As a general rule, every human group believes that their souls survive in the world after death, but in different forms. According to Muslims and Christians, the next world is composed of about two parts: a first part named paradise where every good believer and benefactor will live forever, a second part named hell where the non-believers and criminals will burn forever. Their funeral ceremonies involve expiatory rites and many prayers so that the dead person will be in paradise after the last judgment.
For the animist, in the hereafter, the dead person becomes powerful among his ancestors and can play an important role in the life of those who are still alive. The animists perform many traditional rites for their dead to satisfy them in the life of the next world and prevent them from disturbing the life on earth.
The following will describe the different kinds of burials in the Malinke and Ibo societies according to their ethnic groups and creed.
1. Funeral rites in the Malinke Society of Cote d’ivoire :
In “Les Soleils des Independences” by Amadou Kourouma we can note complicated kinds of funeral rites which involve both revealed religion (Islam) and the traditional animism.
This concept is well illustrated by Kourouma, who writes: “­­The Muslim listens to the Koran, the fetishist follows the Koma, but in Togoballa, in front of all, everybody calls himself Muslim, and practices that religion, but everyone fears the fetish,” (P.105).
A traditional belief is that when a Malinke dies abroad the soul gets up, wears clothes and goes back to its native village to announce the news. Once in the village, the soul shakes all of his belongings to make noise, even his animals cry. Through this, people are made aware of the owner’s death abroad. Then, the soul goes back to where the corpse is to follow all of the ceremonies until the final ceremony on the fortieth day.
After the burial and the ceremonies, the soul goes back to their native village to incarnate into a Malinke baby.
To uphold this idea, Kourouma writes: “If the deceased was a member of the caste of blacksmiths, if we were not in modern time, I swear nobody would have dared bury him in a far away foreign land.
An old man of the caste would come from the native village with a stick, he would touch the deceased body, and it would get up and follow him to the native village while the corpse remains died. Once in the village, the old man would touch the dead body again with the stick and it would lie down again. Then every ceremony could happen in this village” (P.9).
In Togobabala, Malinkes celebrate the ceremony of the fortieth day. As with Muslim rituals, Koran verses are read and animals are slaughtered for the mourners and a lot of prayers are said for the dead person. But differently from Muslims, Malinkes think those forty days after the burial, the soul is received by its ancestors but they don’t give him a place until they are full of blood. So nothing but blood was good for the deceased person during his fortieth day’s funeral. That is why Kourouma writes “according to Balla, all the dead of modern time were living crowded in an unsuitable place in the hereafter because they were badly received by their ancestors” (P.138).
Through this page, we can notice that at that time, there were a few people rich enough to organize worthy funerals for their dead. The Malinkes of old times who were living on trade tradition were ruined by the modern time.
So, instead of the Koran reading in the day time, it is music, dancing, and gun firing that start and continue during all the night as last rites.
2. Funeral rites in the Ibo Society in Nigeria:
The Ibo society is a traditional one which is firmly attached to its culture and customs. The socio-economic conditions and customary creed influence their funeral rites.
In “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, we can notice three kinds of dead and their respective rites, ­­­although the novel is not based only on funeral activities.
The first type of funeral is when an old man who has taken titles dies from a natural sickness. The sound of the hallowed out instrument Ekwe and a gun boomed at intervals informs the clan of the death. This sound is followed by the wailing of women. The Ekwe carried the news by naming the clan, the village and finally the dead person.
When the great warrior and titled old man called Ezeudu died in Umuofia, the news was carried to the clan in a traditional way. The old drum of death beat, men danced, and guns and cannons were fired. As it was a warrior funeral, warriors came and went in their age groups from morning till night. The ancestral spirits, such as Egwugwu played their part of custom and talked to the corpse by asking it to come back the way it came as it had a life of achievement. In fact Ezeudu has taken three titles out of four for all the clan.
In this connection Achebe writes “Because he has taken titles, Ezeudu was to be buried after dark with only a glowing brand to light the sacred ceremony” (P.86).
The second kind of dead is the dead of someone who has taken his own life. When a man kills himself, he is not buried as an ordinary dead person. Even if he has taken all the four titles of the clan it is an abomination for a man to take his own life, it is an offence against the earth. So a man who commits it will not be buried by his clan’s men, only strangers from another clan can touch his body, because the corpse becomes evil for the clan’s men. This was the case of Okonkwo, one of the most famous people in Umuofia; he had achieved many titles but not the greatest yet and was a warrior too.
After killing a court messenger during a meeting, he hung himself. Even though he had titles and was a warrior, he does not deserve a worthy funeral.
According to his friend Obierika “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried as a dog” (P.147). He was addressing this to the district commissioner.
Instead of worthy funeral, only some sacrifices are made to cleanse the desecrated land after such a death.

The third type of dead person is the one who deserves no kind of burial; he does not even have a grave due to the sickness that afflicted him. This is a sickness called swelling, which is an abomination to the earth goddess. When someone is afflicted with it in the stomach and the limbs, he is not allowed to die in the house; they carry him to the evil forest and leave him to die there.
In this connection, Chinua Achebe writes, “There was the story of a very stubborn man who staggered back to his house and had to be carried again to the forest and tied to a tree” (P.13).
Here, we can see that the sickness was really abominable and its victims were banned from the village. Such was the case of Unoka, the father of Okonkwo. He deserved neither a grave nor a funeral because he was afflicted with swelling. He was only carried to the evil forest and left there to die.
To conclude, we can say that in both of these different societies death rites have a social importance and everybody must be careful for what will happen after their life.

1. Funeral rites in the Senoufo
The Senoufo, like all traditional societies have a conception of death. This conception is the root of many rites. But let us remember that the Senoufo society is a very large area and many villages. As an area of culture, custom and tradition, each clan or village can have its rites according to its culture.
When we read the memoire of Brahima Kone about: FUNERAL RITES IN TRADITIONAL SENOUFO SOCIETY: THE CASE STUDY OF LOFINE IN THE CIRCLE OF KADIOLO, we can have an idea of the Senoufo’s point of view on death and funeral rites.
According to Brahima Kone, the Senoufo society is fundamentally traditional. The first religion known in this society is animism, a religion based on the worship of idols.
In the animists’ conception, death is a fact of evil spirits though all know that it is unavoidable. For them it is due to the violation of a tabu (an error that someone can make knowingly or unknowingly), it may also be due to an enemy or a sorcerer who can cast a spell over somebody.
The circumstances that determine the decease of a person and his or her rites in the Senoufo society are multiple and various.
When we read the book entitled: “Les rites initiatiques chez les Senoufo (Sud-Mali)” of N’do Cisse, we can have an idea of some Senoufo’s death rituals.

In the Senoufo’s society, the babies and the kids are buried in the “pyibbinlemi”, so close to the village without any ritual and at the same time N’do Cisse says that they are also entitled to a semblance of funerals just to respect the custom. In this case, the rituals are abridged or emerged with the rituals of another member of the family. (p. 47).
The people dead from accident [snake bite, traffic accident, childbirth, murder, suicide, perjury, falls…] are buried discreetly. And all of these deaths are called “Sangahana”.
And if someone dies in the cases quoted above in the bush, his or her corpse is not taken back home. Even if the corpse arrived home, it will be taken out over the wall of the house to bring it to the cemetery and the dead is buried in the most horrible way (less deep graves, no worthy funerals) and only by the members of “Sangahana” because the corpse is an abomination for the inhabitants. Many rituals are carried out in order that such case should not happen again in the village.
In the Traditional Senoufo society, there is another life after death, and all deceased persons are called to join their ancestors in that other life so as to protect the living. So, to make easy to the deceased person to join his ancestors in the hereafter, some significant rituals are organized from the burial till the last funerals and all the rituals linked to the burials are called “kupirigi”.
According to Mr Brahima Kone, in the Senoufo society, everybody belongs to the “Gbagi” (mother’s descent). So, if someone dies, the deceased is firstly informed to the mother family, then the village’s political and religious authorities.
A group of initiated persons called “kucelebele” are in the charge of washing the corpse.
After the washing, the body of the deceased person is covered with some clothes and exposed in the vestibule of the family waiting for the distant relatives and it could stay there sometimes several months. During that period, masks come in the vestibule to pay tribute to the deceased person if he was a high initiated person.
Then, comes a ceremony called “fonnijeenri” which consist to present the clothes that the body of deceased person will be worn. The wealth and the labor of the deceased person are revealed to the public.
The body of the deceased is carried by the “Kucelebele” from the vestibule to the “kafugi” which is the public place in Senoufou in hurry but the sons and relatives will try to stop or slow down them in order to have more time with him.
The name burial is called “Kutori” in Senoufo and that is in charge of a group of young people by the name of “Kudwobele”.
So the Kutori is done under the ground which digging is also followed by several rituals.
On their way, the “Kudwobele” proceed to some goodbye’s rituals with the relatives to pay tribute to the deceased. Many different sacred music instruments are played and some distinctive emblems are exposed to decorate the corpse.
Finally, the later rituals have the name “Kuwaagi”. They are organized after the harvest, which is the resting moment and these rituals require a significant quantity of cereals. The people from the neighbor villages are invited. It is an opportunity for the descent to meet and know each other. All of them bring his help and take part to all the rituals in which they can participate.
To conclude that chapter, we can say that the Funeral rites in the Senoufo society are so important and very rich. And the Senoufo’s culture is more or less close to the Dogon’s one about which we are going to talk mainly in the next part of this paper.


3. Description of the rural commune of Sangha:
Sangha was a sub-prefecture transformed into a commune during the decentralization process of Mali.
The rural commune of Sangha is composed of 57 villages and more than 10 hamlets. It covers an area of about 1000 square kilometers.
The town of Sangha is limited in the North by the communes of Ondogou and Wadouba, in the South by the towns of Pelou and Dourou, in the West by Soroly, in the East by Diankabou and Madougou then in the South-Eastern by the towns of Youdiou and Barapireli.
Administratively, Sangha is in the circle of Bandiagara and the region of Mopti.
The landscape is complex and is composed of sandstone plateaus and cliffs. The natural arrangement of the hills, isolated by torrent valleys where rivers, streams, waterfalls and ponds originate is fantastic. The vegetation is arranged according to this landscape and it is very attractive with a variety of trees such as creeper, karite, grape tree, nere, etc…, which grow well and provide very good fruits and shade. The cliff, with its countless caves and escarpments constitutes a natural shelter many wild animals such as reptiles, hyenas, panthers, crocodiles and birds, the existence of which is threatened by an uncontrolled hunting practice. The existence of ponds, rivers, streams on the upper side as well as in the mountain supports the daily life of the villagers. Thanks to them, they population practices multiple activities. The villagers’ settlement follows the order of the escarpment because these elements determine the human being’s existence and the people’s activities.
The upper side is composed of: Sangha, the head quarter, Kamba, Nacombo, and Daga. And the other part is inhabited by villages which follow the natural disposition of the cliff that means the entire length of the mountain side and from Tereli to Yendouma.
There dominates a climate which corresponds to the Sahara, characterized by two winds: Harmattan and Monsoon. The Harmattan is a violent and dry wind which blows from December to May, and then the Monsoon is colder and blows from June to September which is the period of rainy season.
4. Demographic Features
According to Mr. Ali Dolo, mayor of the commune of Sangha, the population of Sangha is about 24.022 inhabitants and constitutes 1, 5% of the population of Mopti Region.
It is essentially composed of the Dogon ethnic group. Women represent 55% against 45% for men. Children represent 20% of that population. This population lives in three zones: the plateau, the cliff, and the plain.
The inhabitants of the plateau have the following family names: Dolo, Natoumbe, and Djiguiba. Those of the cliff and the plain have the following family names: Guirou, Saye, Tagadiou, Poudiougo, Kodio, Din, Dara, Doumbo, Sangara, and Teme.

Most the people are Dogon but there is a Fulani minority settled around the village which is responsible for herding the Dogon’s animals. There are also a few white men who have created small activities for themselves, NGO workers, and Malian administration employees who are considered by the natives as outsiders.
The Dogons of Sangha are a very well known ethnic group because of their tradition and social organization. Their main activities are: farming, gardening and tourism. There are also caste men whose services give life to the previous quoted group, and to the entire society. The caste men are blacksmiths, cobblers, etc… and they play an important role like griots in other societies. The other descriptions of people of Sangha as well as their historical background are similar and tightly linked to the whole Dogon country land.
According to the most accepted hypothesis about the Dogon people’s origin is that they are of Manding origin. They were four brothers with their wives. Their departure from Manding has been explained by their refusal to accept the new faith, Islam. They arrived at the cliff of Bandiagara around the 13th century where they established their settlement. They founded their first family under a baobab tree in current Kanibonzon. From there, some of the four brothers of the family and their wives went down along of the cliff and the plain to search for a home.
All this historical background can be applied to the whole Dogon country, including Sangha. Some particular features of the people of Sangha are their pride, deep beliefs and faith in their Animism cultures and superstitions.
5. Economic Features:
All over the 57 villages that compose Sangha, all the people are almost practicing the same activities. In such a hostile nature people must endeavor to survive by multiplying the activities and adopting the nature to their requirements and needs.
The main economic activities are: farming, gardening, and tourism; beside of that, breeding, seasonal picking fruits are considerable as well.
Millet, bean, fonio are the main crops that the villagers grow during the rainy reason, that activity lasts four months. After the harvest, the crops are stored in granaries and are exclusively conserved for consumption until the next harvesting. All along the rivers, the ponds and streams people get busy in gardening activities of different plants. So, we can see that even during the dry season which is supposed to be the resting season, people prevent themselves from rest because of the gardening activities. On the plateau, the existence of some important rivers and three water retaining projects(the dam of Gona built by Marcel Griaul in 1949-1953,the dam of Sangha Bongo built by the USAID and the dam of Daga) enliven this activity. Thanks to these development investments, gardening have become as important as farming due to the considerable incomes and profits it brings. From November to April, all the men, women and children are busy with different activities from dawn to sunset. Later on, these products are immediately sent to the market because of the family’s needs. Onions, tomato, tobacco, salad are some common vegetables.
Tourism has its importance in Sangha. It employs a large number of young people. Tourism represents for these young people a very important source of income and an easy way for them to get a job. This led to a progressive proliferation of guides and other groups. Then tourism appears as a factor of development with its unlimited advantage and profits for the whole population of Sangha.
The other none the less important activities are breeding animals and picking fruits. Beside these three previous quoted activities, each family has its own fence and a boy is designed to herd them or a Fulani’s hired for them. The main goal of this practice is to provide guests with meats during ceremonies, feats and other social events. Beyond the main concerns, fruit picking occurs depending on good raining season. It doesn’t stand as the other previous quoted activities because of its link with rain and not all families own fruit-threes, and that activity does not last long. Nevertheless, it has a great impact as far as earning money for the family’s needs is concerned. Other less important activities are also villagers concerns, especially during the slack season. They are trade, wood carving for men and pottery and spinning for women etc….
Like in many areas in Mali, Sangha’s people’s income is very low. Everyone does his best to survive.

3- Period of sickness:
Like all well organized human societies, there is a strong solidarity among the inhabitants of Sangha, mainly in a time of hopelessness. In the village of Sangha, the problem of one person or a family is a matter of public concern. When someone is sick, whoever he or she is, however poor this person maybe, he or she can have a help for the treatments.
In addition to what the relatives do for that sick person, all the close neighbors and friends show their willingness through their gestures. Some people bring cereals; some others bring sugar, coffee, and some give amount of money according to their capacities. Even the people who know traditional medicines bring tree’s root, bark, or leaves to be boiled and used for the sick person if he is not at hospital or they may recommend some good and well known doctors.
Women always contribute so much. Though they may sometime have nothing to give, they sympathize with the parents in the village of the sick person by giving their endless benedictions. Closely related women can leave their marital family to live in the sick person’s family until he or she recovers or dies.
There are some sicknesses that do not need a body treatment. That is the case of a person who violates a taboo of his own family knowingly or unknowingly and gets bewitched by the spirits. Only cleansing sacrifices can save the life of a sick person. Can benedictions and lamentations do it? We can say no. And when the sick person dies, we always hear the desperate people saying: nobody can do anything against the will of God.
4- Some particular mythical signs that announce death in Sangha:
Sangha is a traditional village with multiple myths and superstitions. Some of those superstitions signs always bring fortune and are welcome, but others are misfortune bringers and are hated. They are unavoidable because they are natural. Here are some misfortune bringers.
a) A sick person mimicking the Kanaga mask dance sound:
The kanaga mask is used in deeply sacred rituals by the Dogon.Carving this mask is as important a ritual as the ceremonies in which the mask is used. The carver blacksmith finds the proper tree and in a secret cave outside the village, he shapes the mask with gestures which repeat the movement of dances that will wear it when a dancer wears the kanaga mask and becomes the creator of the word symbolically. All his gestures are to thank God for everything he has given to humanity.
He touches the ground with his mask as sign of thanking the Earth God and prays it in or to lead a soul to heaven especially if that dance is during a festival.
Although these dances are now frequently performed for the public, but the meaning of kanaga is retained by the dogons who fear, respect and depend on the power of the mask.
So, the Drumming of Kanaga mask dance is powerful, strong and attracts everybody to make a gesture. Once a sick person, being in his bed starts playing the sound, making the gestures of this mask, his family will lose hope and everyone will say, he is no longer to us, God is calling him.
b) Declaration of self history:
For the Animists, God gives to someone who is going to him [God’s family] a new energy that permits him to have a clear view, clear idea in what he had done in his past especially the negative things.
So, when the sick person’s family notices that their sick man starts telling stories like he had stolen some people’s goods or killed that persons or borrowed money to that person etc…, the family will immediately stop at the gate any visitors asking about the state of the sick person. They say “yes he is better today” and start gathering the different accessories to get ready for a burial secretly. That is a sign of the end of his life on the earth.
c) Flying and crying of the birds crow:
There are many crows in the Dogon country, especially in the area of Sangha; they are always sign of bad luck.
Once, a big number of crows are crying and flying over the grave yard of the village, people will say that some bad and sad news will happen in the village.
And some of the crows will fly over the family where someone is dying to the grave. That helps people to find out where or in which family the sadness will happen.
After that the sad news, we mean the death, the deceased family with the help of the rest of the villagers will set up about the burial of the corpse that we are going to give a detailed description in our next chapter.

Before we talk about Burial in Sangha, there is a Dogon myth that tells about the appearance of Death in human society. That notable myth concerned the adventure of fibers throughout the world. In the Dogon cosmogony, God has the Earth as his wife and the Jackal, their eldest son and the Spirit of Water, their second son.
The Earth, mother of the Jackal and Spirit of Water was always naked and she was having an incestuous union with the Jackal, her oldest son. So, for the Spirit of Water the second son of the Earth was conscious and ashamed of his mother being naked, made a skirt for her with fibers.
According to “Diono” (a wise and a fetish man), the fibers, reddened by the menstrual blood which flowed after the incestuous union of the Earth with her son the Jackal, the fibers were put to dry on the anthill. The red color was so bright that a passerby seeing them exclaimed: “Is it the sun? Is it fire? What an astonishing thing!”
A voice from the anthill replied: “It is not the sun, it is not fire, and it is something new.”
Time passed, and the fibers were stolen and put to human use. A woman got hold of them, put them on, spread terror all around her, and reigned as a queen, thanks to this striking adornment which no one had ever seen before. In the end the men took them from her, dressed themselves in the royal garment and prohibited its use to women, with a few exceptions. All the young men danced wearing the red fibers and the women had to content themselves with admiring them.
But the possession of these stolen goods, acquired by force, carried with it its own penalty; those who had robbed the women had concealed their spoil from the oldest man, thus breaking the tradition of respect and submission due to their natural chief. The old man, having reached the term of his earthly life, had like the ancients, been changed into a “Nommo”, (Spirit); but in accordance with the rule, he didn’t go up to the heaven but continued his earthly life in the form of a great serpent. One day, when the young men dressed themselves with the fibers they kept in caves and on their way to the village, the serpent met them and barred them the way. Angry at being flouted, the latter violently reproached them speaking in Dogon language so that they could understand; and this was the cause of his death. Since, he no longer possessed human form and cut himself off from superhuman world. Thus, he was now an impure element, and so could no longer live there, it was equally impossible for him to return to the world of men. Accordingly, he died there.
So, his death ascribed the loss of immortality in the Dogon tradition.
Organization and progress of burial:
The circumstances that determine the decease of a person in Sangha are multiple and various. So every deceased person must receive some rites but those rites differ from a dead person to another according to the nature of his death. The social status of the dead person has also an importance in the burial rituals.
In the course of this chapter, we are going to tell about some cases of death and their respective rituals.

5- Burial of an ordinary deceased person
When we are talking about ordinary deceased person, we mean any adult person who is neither a “Hogon” (Spiritual chief) which we will see later or a person who died from accident, but a simple person who died from a sickness or old age.
Before undertaking any decision, the members of the family try to make sure about the cause of his/her death by going to see a diviner. On only very few cases do the diviners say it is a natural death, meaning a death done by God. Usually, a Dogon’s death has always a cause; it is sometimes due to the harmful spell of sorcerers, to the violation of a taboo or to a mistake during the use of a Sacrifice. Once the causes are known, they proceed to the rule of the tradition.
a- Informing people
In Sangha, all the people belongs to the “Hogon”, we mean here, if someone is not grandson or son; he is a young brother of the “Hogon” because he is the oldest. So, the “Hogon” is the first person to be announced the decease of any person.
In the traditional society of Dogons, the corpse of the deceased belongs to the maternal family. So, after the “Hogon”, someone is sent to inform the oldest of the maternal family and that one will send 2-4 persons with a cover of a dead which is the most important thing in a Dogon’s death. Then, they inform all the chief’s families, then young men and women. The sad news is announced to all the relatives, even those who live far away are informed but some relatives cannot be informed always the same day that the person dies. The village bids a fond and warm farewell to the deceased person, people gather in his or her compound soon after they learn about the sad news.

b- The washing of the corpse
In Sangha, usually, people want to keep the corpse for a certain moment. So, before they wash it, they make the dead person vomit up and that vomit is collected it in a gourd, and then they make him swallow down some water mixed with fruits a tree called “bara” which helps to keep the corpse till when they want.
The members of the family gather inside of her/his room, and the washing happens in two phases. The first washing is done with ordinary water and the second washing is done with some water called water of paradise which is sign of cleansing. This water is heated up and the first gesture of washing is made by his oldest son and if the deceased is a woman, it is her eldest daughter who makes that first gesture. By doing that, he or she makes a speech, they ask the deceased person to forgive them, forgive everybody before going to the other world. After, they shave the corpse and the hair is kept in the same gourd with the vomit for some rites. Then they dress the corpse traditionally, they wrap it with a large white cotton sheet and the final covering is always the death blanket, white and blue checkered cotton blanket brought from the maternal family and if the maternal is too far away, the paternal family can use his own blanket which they usually keep in a iron box in which most Dogon people use to store their valuables and clothes, then the corpse is ready as a shroud to take to the cemetery.

c- The burial
A burial in Sangha is done always before sun rise, because of the cliff’s position. The men prepare a wooden bier and the stiffening body is tied into it, ready for the deceased person’s last journey.
The corpse is taken out over the wall which is half destroyed because, if they take it out through the door, they think that another death could follow the same way and come into the family. Two people carry the bier over their heads and shuffle toward the cemetery which is generally on the cliff. After a hundred yards, another two people take their place, as every young man able of the ward wants his share in the burial.
At the cemetery, barefoot and bare-chested out of respect for the spirits of the deceased and for the dead they will encounter, the pallbearers climb the winding footpaths. Some youngsters easily attain the steep Cliffside, sometimes with the help of ropes made from baobab fibers to assist the pallbearers to carry the corps upward.
Some caverns are twenty meter deep. They are shield from people’s gaze by a wall. Inside, a member of the family unwraps the checkered blanket and folds it while another covers the corpse with bones of the ancestors.
For the circumstance, in the mourning family, women prepare food. Continuously, some old men move around in the compound to pay condolences; rituals exchanges of greetings go, sometimes the visitors holding up a clenched fist to express the strength of their feelings. The guests stay about half an hour and leave when new people from other wards of the village enter into the compound. For the five days (a Dogon week), people come in to great.
On the sixth day, women gather all the deceased person’s clothes plus some blankets of a few notables of the village and wash them; that is the end of an ordinary burial’s rites.

6- The burial of a deceased customary chief or Hogon of Sangha.
The “Hogon” is a supreme spiritual chief and the oldest person in the whole village of Sangha. His death doesn’t affect people so much.
When a “Hogon” dies, someone gets on the rooftop of his house and shoots a gun three times and everybody will know what has happened but it is forbidden to say the “Hogon” is dead, they say the “Hogon” climbed onto the roof. A big feast is organized that day. The family will prepare a big quantity food. The corpse of the “Hogon” will be dressed and decorated with valuables by his grandsons and will be seated at the dancing place. His face, hands and legs can be seen. Grandsons and women dance and play around the corpse all the day then, everybody offers a gift and that is his last wealth of his reign. The corpse is buried before sunset in the cemetery reserved to the “Hogon” by the grandsons.

7- The burial a deceased woman
A woman is always buried in her paternal village cemetery. Because she gave all services during her life in her husband’s village, so, at least her soul merits relaxing next to her ancestors.
Her corpse will be tied in a bier and well covered with the death blanket and will be carried till her father’s village however long the distance with drumming, dancing, and singing. Her sons and daughter put very good smelling perfume on the corpse and throw some candies, biscuits and coins at the corpse in order that their mother joins her ancestor wealthy.
Once the burial done, the family has to wait for the funeral rituals called “nyu yana”.

d- Organization and procession
The funeral rituals called “Nyuyana” is a long ritual, the most complicated of Dogon ritual, and it is actually a collection of many rituals, songs, dances lasting three days and four nights. As a funeral, it marks the farewell of all the villagers who have died over the past years. And those funerals are organized in the dry season after the harvest and we always hear people saying: “if I have good crops this year, I will organize the funerals of my dead parent”. This means that the funeral rituals are not always organized during the same year the person dies, all depends on the mourning family’s conditions.
The main aims of the funerals are to chase away the soul of the deceased person which remains in the village and comes to refresh itself in the altar of old men but his presence disturbs the livings.
In addition to their religious values, the funeral rituals have a sociological importance in the Dogons life.
8- Preparation of millet beer and the flintlock.
The Dogon people are so social and interdependent. Once the date of funerals is fixed, all the families and relatives in the village or outside of the village collect some cereals intended to help the mourning family to organize the funerals. The family will always contribute the biggest quantities the cereals.
All the millet will be shared to all the families in which there are women who can make the millet beer.
Five days before the funeral, all the young people go the bush to cut wood and bring their heap of woods to the village. They share that between the women who are going to prepare the millet beer.
Three days before, everybody takes his flint gun to the blacksmith to repair it. And everywhere the young people make the powder which serves to fire their flint gun.
The young girls draw water for their moms to prepare the millet beer and in the evening, the women who are specialists of the millet beer start its preparation which lasts three days and should coincide with the first day of the funerals.
The whole village gets busy, very busy preparing that funeral till the day of the funerals.
9- Days of the Funeral Rituals
The boisterous rituals for the dead begin in silence. In the late afternoon people stop speaking when a hooded figure, with its head covered with a plaited caps hits a bell to announce the time of the ceremony. Men gather on the rooftop of the mourning house, each, carrying his long flintlock gun. They load their guns, sway in a common dance step and ready to fire their charges immediately soon after the oldest son has finished praising his dad for his bravery then fired his gun. The loud booms chase away the bad spirit in the village. Then, the drums beat a steady rhythm and all the people gather in the public dancing place and keep firing around a heap of stones which is in the center of the dancing square till the sunset.
In the night, people spend the night singing “andumunoni” (the farewell songs), then at eleven o’clock, the specialists of that song who know the long text by heart gather in the mourning family to sing the “bajani”,( an enormous song) commemorating the bravery, the sadness… until the sunrise. This is the Song of Songs for the Dogon and it is imperative to sing it well.

Several other rites follow in the days to come, but the days of “Nyuyana” are also filled with receiving guests and the performing of various rites, including above all, a mock battle.
On the second and third days of “Nyuyana”, the whole village gathers in the largest dancing place in the afternoon, to stage a “war”. All men and boys turn out with their flintlock gun, a whole army of them; they parade, dance and shoot at each other; the women shriek, exhort, dance and praise the men for their valiant effort for the defense of the village. That is really a splendid spectacle loved deeply by the Dogon people and it enchants all the guests too. Everyone dresses up, women carrying their most colorful blankets on their heads. It is a mock battle which chases away the bad spirit from the village.
After the mock battle, a farewell speech is shouted to the departed man by the village speakers. This is long, full invocation entreats all the God, spirits and ancestors to be gentle with the newcomers, to welcome the newly deceased in their midst. At the end of the day, two or four masks will come to pay tribute to the deceased in the dancing place around the “death blanket” (covering of death) and that is the end of the funeral.
After the “Nyuyana”, the spirit of the deceased person’s soul will continue to be very near, very present in the village. His grandson will pray to him when they have trouble, give him offertory through a female cousin of his dead father. The deceased would not be forgotten ever. The few material possessions of the dead man have to be distributed among his sons and brothers and an estimate years or month of the mask festivals that we are going to talk about in our last chapter is purposed. If all of these rituals are not done correctly as the tradition requires, the children from the family will dream about the deceased person and cry lately in the night; the wise people will always see him and sometimes talks with them about his annoyance and also about of is he able to do if his rituals are not completed correctly.

The second part of the complex funeral rites will have to be performed by the large and important mask festival or “Dama”. The word “dama” means dangerous or forbidden. It is the end of the mourning and the passage of the deceased person’s soul to the land of the ancestors.
Usually the “Dama” takes place every 3 years in the village of Sangha.
Exceptional circumstances such as drought, large epidemics or internal discussion in the village may postpone the ritual even for a long time. But eventually, the ritual must be held for all the deceased.
Otherwise, they would be trapped between this world and the next and they would never be able to gain their prosperous status as ancestors.
After a good harvest, which means that ample supplies of millet and sesame are on hand, the village becomes the scene of mask preparation. The young men who will dance for their first time collect huge quantities of hibiscus fibers, which they will need for their costumes, and start to work on their masks.
After the mask preparation, the first few weeks before the real “Dama”, are called” younge Emna”, referring to the fire or night masks.
At night the young men gather just outside the village. A few of them beat the slit drum, the others, being the guided by some elders, practice their dancing. Fire and light are taboo for them, and no man passing by may carry a torch. During this period the women of the village of Sangha may not leave or enter the village at night, as they should risk seeing the ‘’naked’’ or unadorned masks without head coverings. If a woman crosses the village borders in the dark, the masks adorned with just a few fibers over their trousers, will go abruptly near them and fine them and their husbands.
The heart of the “Dama” begins with the arrival of mask, first from the bush in the east, and then from all other directions. The old men have set the timing of this some weeks in advance. At the crackdown, the dancers and many older men leave Sangha , heading for a cave about two km away from the village. There, they spend most of the day, drinking millet beer brought to them by “Yasigi” “the sister of the mask” who also serve them water.
About 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the masks enter the village from the cave into a long single file, the oldest first; all of them are ‘’Emna’’ (mask in Dogon). But before they leave the cave, the dancers make lots of sacrifices to the great mask in order to be protected. That is the entrance of masks from the bush.
The village speaker shouts his greeting to them in ‘’sigi so’, the mask language.
After the greeting, the masks disperse into a cave just down the village called “somon”, (mask cave) by shouting their cry “hou, hou, hou”.
Though the masks have now officially entered the village, they are still seen as “naked” and they still work on completing their costumes.
In the following days, the young men get their costumes and head pieces in order. Also the drum of the village is repaired and the men make some new drums too. In the afternoon, some the masks arrive at the dancing place for their first performance. The arrival itself is still a time of high taboo. Women, children and strangers are absent and only the men of Sangha are allowed on the spot.Thus the arrival of masks at the site Alter is a short distance and everything is ready.

10- The first day of the mask dance festival
The masks and drums are well prepared, sacrifices are done, the young are ready, villagers and visitors are ready too. Women have also finished with the cooking millet beer.
All the villagers and the visitors who come from the neighboring villages gather in the public place or dancing place. The culinary preparations are done; people are waiting for the cries of masks dancers. The deceased’s family plants a seat-stick (desk-chair made in wood) of the deceased. A mask called “mapourou” comes alone and picks the seat-stick then goes back to the cave of masks and informs the rest that they can go now; he takes away the seat-stick of the dead person. So, all the young men bear their shiny masks which are newly made and come in a unique queue in order of appearance on the dancing place of the village where the dance of the masks takes place. This first day of the festival is intended to the presentation of the masks for villagers and the other the visitors. Every dancer executes an individual dance which goes with the rhythm of the drums that will never stop in the village till the end of the “dama”.
At the end of the day, they go back into the cave. All the night, villagers and guests will drink millet beer and dance in the deceased’s family. That night, because of the noises, nobody will sleep in the village, even if you are not at the feast.

11- The second day of the mask dance festival
The second day of the festival is known as a tribute to all the people who have taken part in the festival of “Sigui” a festival organized every sixty years all over the Dogon country. The entire masks will dance in front of the people who have that honor. Women and children could admire the dances only at a certain distance. Villagers and guests surround the masks and encourage them and mock at them according to the characters that the young dancers show and according to the quality of their performance. Like in the previous day, people drink millet beer during all the second day too. In the streets, everybody you meet is happy. There are millet beer and foods in every corner of the streets. Villagers or strangers can drink it freely. People says that it is masks festival and beers are for masks and for all circumcised men no matter where you are from
12- The third and last day of the mask festival
The third day of the “Dama” is devoted to enchant the souls of the deceased person.
Before sunrise, masks go to visit the houses of the deceased; supposing that the souls stay on the top of the houses, they go up on the terraces and execute the dance called “Agayadiou” or <> which goes with the sing of the windows and the old men stand up just in the houses. This dance must enchant the souls of the deceased persons and they will follow the dancers who return to the public place of the village where they will dance all the day.
The masks like “Kanaga mask” dance generally in group. Some masks can dance individually, for instance the hunters’ mask dances alone. Each dancer mimes the activities or the behavior of masks he bears. All the population can take part in the dance by encouraging or mocking but in reality; it is the old men are the persons who thrive the most of this scope.
At the end of the day, the masks go toward the bush followed by the souls of the deaths, enthralled by their arts. Masks are put in the mask cave and the souls take the road of the ancestors’ country. The rest of the millet beers are shared in souvenir of “Sigui” between the old men and the young dancers.
The “Dama” is finished; the deceased’s families quit mourning definitively. Children can play freely in the family; women can also continue their usual tasks.
To conclude, we can say that the “Dama” is the greatest and the most important festival of mask in the Dogon culture. It is the last ritual which permits the deceased’s souls to leave completely the village and join their ancestors. Young boys must be initiated in order to not loss that credible ritual in the days to come.

To conclude this paper, we can say that the choice of the topic: Death Ritual in the Dogon country, the case of Sangha has provided us with a clear insight into the Dogon people’s traditional ways of practicing the death rituals. It had been profitable for us, because it permitted us to know more about the funeral rituals of our own village. Therefore, we can say that “to know someone is good but to know one-self is better”.
The first part of this memoir permitted us to learn about the conception of death in some traditional African societies. In the case of the Malinke society, they think that pouring as much blood as possible (we mean the sacrifice of animals) during the fortieth day of mourning will make the integration of the deceased person among his ancestors easier in the hereafter. And in the case of the Ibo society, the greatness of a deceased man during his earth life will be known during his funeral rituals because the social conditions and the conditions in which a man dies has a great influence over his funeral rituals in the society.
In the Senoufo society, death is never a fortituous fact, it is a fact of evil spirits. So here in the conception of the Senoufo society, we see that all the dead persons died either from their own error, their violation of taboos or a spell thrown by a sorcerer.
And in the second part, the study in the target place with many analyses permitted us to present in the first chapter the rural commune of Sangha, in the second the time of sickness and some omens announcing a death. The third chapter concerns death and the burials. We talk about the funeral rituals in the fourth chapter and in the fifth chapter we present the mask dance festival.
To end this conclusion, we can say that we are proud of our work because our objectives in the choice of that topic are attained, after that study we learnt more about our own culture and custom.
In addition to its cultural and custom status, the death rituals are in general signs of solidarity.

Achebe, Chinua, (1956). Things Falls Apart Whilliam Heinneman
Cisse, N’do, (2008). Les rites initiatiques chez les Senoufo (Sud-Mali), ed. L’Harmattan
Griaule, Marcel, (1948). Dieu d’Eau, entretiens avec Ogotemeli.Librairie Artheme Fayard, Paris
Kone,Brahima, (memoire 2006-2007). Funeral Rites in Traditional Senoufo Society: The case study of Lofine in the Circle of Kadiola (Unpublished).
Kourouma, Amadou, (1976). Les soleils des independances, Ed. Seul.

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