231018 - Old African Dogon Mask - Mali.


Mali: Old African Dogon Mask.

Height 43 cm.

There are nearly eighty styles of Dogon masks, and for the most part they all utilize the use of various geometric shapes in their design, independent of the various animals they are supposed to represent. Most masks have large geometric eyes and stylized features and are often painted or colored with various substances. The Dogon continue an ancient masquerading tradition called "Dama" which commemorates the origin of death. 


Dama memorial ceremonies are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. In these ceremonies there are a large number of performers, often a few hundred, and it is considered absolutely necessary to the ceremony. In the case of the dama, the timing, types of masks involved, and other ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in locations only several miles distant. The masks also appear during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of a male Dogon.


The better known Kanaga and sirige masks are followed in the dama ceremony by masks that evoke the behavior of some of the animals that inhabit the regions where the Dogon live and hunt.They include among others - antelopes, hares, lions, hyenas, cows, birds and monkeys.


According to Dogon beliefs, the monkey represents wild, uncivilized, dangerous, and antisocial behavior –  the direct opposite of their beliefs about  the way a proper, solid, upstanding Dogon person is expected to behave. The Dogon utilize three types of monkey masks which are identified solely by their color rather than their shape. For the Dogon, Dege is the black monkey, while the white monkey is known as Omono, and the red monkey is called Ko.

The myths of all may not be known, but it has been written in  that the black monkeys, Dege, are the "male villains of the bush." The black monkeys stand for wickedness, gluttony and must not be emulated because it is the antithesis of the Dogon order (Sieber & Walker 1987, p. 134).