Dogon - Sociopolitical Organization



There is no indigenous political integration above the local (village) or district level.

Social Organization. Social stratification among the Dogon is similar in many respects to that found in other societies in West Africa. One of its most distinctive features is the hierarchical series of occupational "castes" or status groups consisting of iron- and leatherworkers, griots (lineage genealogists), musicians, poets, and sorcerers. These caste groups live apart from the general population. Each caste is endogamous, and members do not take part in any of the common religious cults. Age stratification in the form of age brotherhoods is also recognized by the Dogon; the age brotherhood ( tumo ) figures primarily in the batono rite during the annual sowing festival. Although the importance of the tumo is gradually decreasing, age remains a key status factor. A men's society, frequently referred to as the "awa," or masked-dance society, is characterized by a strict code of etiquette, obligations, interdicts, and a secret language (sigi so). Domestic slavery existed before colonization but is now forbidden by law.

Political Organization. Each isolated village or district (canton) in the region has a headman or chief (hogon) who has both religious and judicial responsibilities. Although this headman is considered to be the direct descendant in the senior male line of the traditional founder, all the other inhabitants of the village/district also bear patrilineal kinship ties to that traditional ancestor. The district headman is also head of his lineage and occupies the "great house" (ginna) of that kin group. In conjunction with the council of elders, he makes decisions concerning public affairs. The hogon is assisted in office by a sacrificial totem priest ( yebene ), three bodyguards or policemen, a public crier or herald, and an ambassador who deals with other districts. Succession to office is patrilineal (by younger brother). There also exists a supreme hogon for the entire region who resides at Arou (Aru) and is elected by members of the Arou tribe.

Social Control. Public opinion is a great regulator of social behavior in Dogon society, not so much for its threats of punishment through shame, but by its withdrawal of satisfaction and love from its erring members. Also effective as means of inducing conformity are ridicule and threats of supernatural sanction.

Conflict. In the past the Dogon were considered a warlike people; they often fought with other Dogon districts as well as with their non-Dogon neighbors such as the Fulani. Each district had its own recognized war leaders. Blood alliances frequently were contracted between the Dogon and other groups such as the Bozo.


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