The Dama, Masked Dance of the Dogon

Through the medium of masks, Dogon dancers carve out an opening into ancestral, spiritual worlds, urging souls onward to the afterlife.

Photograph of masked Dogon dancers in colorful costumes with cowrie shells during the Dama masquerade.
Image: Damon Winter.

The Dama, Through the Eyes of the Observer

[A] line of one hundred and fifty masked Ogol dancers emerged out of a trembling mirage of sandstone, advancing along the dusty paths that crossed the fields. Almost all of them, with scarlet fibers that opened on shiny black or straw-yellow fibers, wore on their chest fake black breasts or strips of cowrie shells, glittering with whiteness. Their faces were hidden under braided hoods, some of which were crested with a short beige plume or a red crest. They represented young men, blacksmiths, the Fula, shoemakers, drummers, Moors, ritual thieves, hunters. Others wore wooden masks, painted in three fundamental colors, red, black, white; of carved horsetail antelope, deer, pecking birds, “bush wing deployers” and finally the long masts of the Sirige, known as the “storied house”.

All held in their hands green branches, a sort of testimony of their fresh essence… helmeted and muzzled by headdresses and the faces of the world of the dead, belted by scarlet skirts, symbol of the sun.
On the great square of Ogol du Bas, they threw themselves, by costume-type, into small lines, fly whisks or colored basketry in hand, performing their own movements or general dances, punctuated by drums and iron bells, in the midst of dust, encouraged by songs in their native tongue and declamations in a sacred language: Pour tears for my dead father!  The water falls, falls from my eyes!

And on the mortuary terrace, reached by the notches of tree trunks serving as ladders, they trampled in the narrow space, their red and black silhouettes crisscrossing …

On the big square, according to Ogotemmeli, we saw the universal system in color and movement. On the terrace, the masks traced the future of the world.

― Marcel Griaule​1​

Through the Photographer’s Lens

Through Movement and Sound

[Dogon/French, English subtitles]

Sources and Further Reading

  1. 1.
    Griaule M. Dieu d’eau : Entretiens Avec Ogotemmêli. Paris: Fayard; 1948.
  2. 2.
    Huib B. Dogon Images and Traditions. Academia. Published 2010. Accessed September 2019.
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