The Dogon are an isolated African tribe who live along a 200-kilometre stretch of escarpment called the Cliffs of Bandiagara near Timbuktu. The French anthropologist Marcel Griaule recorded the Dogon religion in 1946 in his book, Conversations with Ogotemmêli (Dieu d’Eau). Shannon Dorey analyzes Griaule’s, Conversations with Ogotemmêli (Dieu d’Eau)in detail in The Master Of Speech.
In 1946, the Dogon were one of the last groups of people to come under French rule. Because they had maintained their own beliefs and religious practices, they were thought to have been one of the best examples of “primitive savagery” known to the world at that time. Even African Muslims were said to have had trouble understanding the Dogon belief system.
Dogon on the Cliffs of Bandiagara 1974 by H. Grobe2
Griaule established his relationship with the Dogon people during field trips which began in 1931. After years of questioning the Dogon elders about the religion, the Dogon finally agreed to let Griaule in on the religion’s innermost teachings. The Dogon elder Ogotemmêli was chosen to present the secret knowledge to Griaule. This was done in 33 days, which began in October of 1946.
Ogotemmêli was considered one of the most powerful minds on the Cliffs of Bandiagara in Mali where the Dogon lived. Ogotemmêli’s grandfather had initiated him into the mysteries of the Dogon religion when he was 15. After his grandfather had died his father had taken over the instruction, which according to Griaule had gone on for more than 20 years.
It was because of Ogotemmêli, that Griaule recorded the religion so accurately. According to Dorey, without this accuracy it would have been impossible for her or any other researcher to decipher it. When it was created, the religion’s continuity was established through its symbolism rather than through its chronology. Without the consistency of the symbols, the religion’s meaning would have been lost. The religion was deliberately created this way to protect it from outside influence. Dorey’s research indicates the Dogon religion was one of the mystery pagan religions thought to have been lost to humanity.
At the time that Griaule recorded the mythology, he admitted that he didn’t really understand a lot of what he was recording. He wrote it down as Ogotemmêli told it to him. Dorey believes this religion is about DNA and genetic engineering.
According to Dorey, the unique structure of this religion suggests it was created in an oral culture. This is why it has been so difficult for researchers to understand it. Because we live in a written culture, its composition is foreign to our way of thinking. The fact it took someone as intelligent as Ogotemmêli over 20 years to learn this religion attests to its complexity. It is not an easy mythology to understand but it is without a doubt the most significant mythology recorded to date.
Dogon Women With Calabashes and Baskets3
It was the isolation of the Dogon tribe, who lived so high in the Cliffs of Bandiagara, that has permitted the mythology to survive to the present in its purest state. There was an indication that the Nummo may have helped the Dogon create the mythology.
According to Dorey, so much of the belief system was intertwined with the Dogon’s daily existence, that there was the sense the mythology was deliberately manufactured in a way that would help them remember it. Even the descriptions of the serpent and fish like Nummo, were exhibited in the jewellery, clothing and tattoos of the Dogon. Perhaps in the isolated Dogon, the Nummo saw an opportunity for the truth to survive.
In The Master Of Speech, Dorey reveals that the Dogon religion is older than Greek and Egyptian mythologies. The Nummo, with their serpent, fish and lizard like descriptions are identified with the serpent and Goddess religions found throughout the world. It is an Earth centered religion that indicates human spiritualism is connected to human DNA, which is connected to the Earth itself.