Dogon - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Dogon moved into the region of the Bandiagara escarpment in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, probably as a result of the breakup of the Mali Empire at the beginning of the fifteenth century. European contact was first made in 1857. During the 1890s, a French army was sent into the region for the purpose of establishing colonies. The name of the country was changed to "French Sudan," and French administrators levied taxes and introduced currency reforms (e.g., French francs to replace the native cowrie shells). Although some Dogon accepted the new regime, many strongly opposed and resisted it for many years. Photographs of masked dancers, first taken in 1907, as well as examples of native art work, soon made their way into Europe and the United States, catching the interest and curiosity of the Western world. Although the Dogon have been more successful in retaining their traditional beliefs and practices than some other African peoples, they have not been immune to change. In 1912 a school was established for them in Sanga, followed by a Christian mission in the 1930s, and later a medical dispensary. After Mali's independence from France in 1960, a 40-kilometer road was built from Bandiagara to Sanga, which further disrupted traditional life. Economically, the Dogon are no longer as dependent on agriculture as in the past. Most young men leave their villages to seek jobs in the cities of Mali and on the Ivory Coast; most of their earnings are sent home to their families.

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