Identification. The Dogon are a group of about 250,000 people who live primarily in the districts of Bandiagara and Douentza in the western African nation of Mali. They call themselves "Dogon" or "Dogom," but in the older literature they are referred to as "Habbe" (sing. Kado), a Fulbe word meaning "stranger" or "pagan."
Location. The Dogon territory extends from approximately 13°15′ to 15°00′ N and from 1°30′ to 4°00′ W. The population is concentrated in some 300 villages along a 145-kilometer stretch of escarpment called the Cliffs of Bandiagara. Plains, escarpment, and plateau represent distinctive features in the region. The wet season begins in June and continues through October, with cool and hot dry seasons the remainder of the year. Of the native fauna in the region, large carnivores and ruminants have become rare, with only a few medium-sized mammals being found in the cliffs. Other fauna include crocodiles (in the swampy areas on the plain), reptiles, monkeys, guenons, guinea hens, hyenas, foxes, panthers, rabbits, and small rodents. The dominant form of vegetation on both plain and plateau is the sparse but regular forest of tall trees, which at close range gives the appearance of an immense orchard. Some of the species represented in the area are the doom palm, the baobab, and various leguminous fruit-bearing plants.
Demography. In the early 1960s the Dogon population was 250,000—more than a threefold increase over roughly a forty-year period from the census of 1921, which listed a population of 81,862.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Dogon language is classified within the Voltaic (or Gur) Subfamily of the Niger-Congo Language Family. Minor regional dialectal differences exist. A secret language known as sigi so is used by members of the men's society ( awa ) in connection with religious rites.