Dogon - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Dogon are primarily agriculturists, their principal crops being millet, sorghum, rice, onions, beans, tobacco, and sorrel. Other crops include sesame, maize, peanuts, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, okra, watermelons, papayas, some figs, gourds, and cotton. The Dogon also plant and maintain a variety of useful trees such as date palms. Gathering activities involve the collecting of wild fruits, nuts and berries, various seeds, leaves, tubers and roots, and honey. In comparison with the neighboring Fulani, animal husbandry is relatively unimportant. Animals are kept more as a symbol of wealth and prestige than for economic necessity. The principal domestic animals are sheep, goats, donkeys, dogs, chickens, guinea fowls, ducks, some cattle, a few horses, and cats. A few villages also keep bees.

Industrial Arts. Craft skills are well developed among the Dogon, especially the making of pottery and baskets, weaving, wood carving, and leather- and ironworking. Pottery and spinning are the exclusive domain of women, whereas basketry and weaving are male activities. Two of the most specialized crafts—leather- and ironworking—are restricted exclusively to members of a craft caste. The blacksmith, set apart by his caste, has no rights in the village and lives entirely on the proceeds of the sale of his goods to other villagers.

Trade. Markets are held every four or five days in areas well removed from the villages. Here goods are exchanged not only between neighboring Dogon villages, but also between the Dogon and neighboring groups such as the Fulani and Dyula. Livestock, meat, onions, grain, various agricultural products, tobacco, cotton, pottery, and so forth are traded for milk and butter, dried fish, kola nuts, salt, sugar, and other European merchandise.

Division of Labor. Work activities are clearly differentiated. Craft specialization is determined by gender and caste. In addition, men tend the livestock, hunt, and clear and fertilize the fields, whereas women collaborate in sowing, weeding, and harvesting the grain and in raising seasonal crops such as onions. Both sexes market, fish, and gather wild foods.

Land Tenure. In traditional Dogon society, land was transmitted within the family group (ginna, or lineage), and was considered inalienable property. Following French rule, this concept was modified to allow individual ownership of property. A man may now sell a field allotted to him in the distribution of ginna property, but the sale is always revocable, and the ginna may recover the property upon the death of the seller through the reimbursement of the purchase price to the buyer. Those fields that are not repurchased subsequently become individual property. Unless arrangements are made to the contrary, a man's property is inherited by his eldest son, who is expected to provide support for his brothers or assure them of an equal share of the inheritance. Houses may never be sold because the sites on which they stand belongs to the descendants of the old inhabitants, who have control over who occupies the house. Fruit trees are valued possessions, and although they may be sold, the previous owner reserves the ownership of the field in which they are planted for his own use.


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