Mali: The Role Of Earth Shrines In The Socio-Symbolic Construction Of The Dogon Territory: Towards A Philosophy Of Containment

Laurence Dounya, 2011


This paper deals with the role of earth shrines in generating and maintaining social order and cohesion in a Dogon village on the Bandiagara escarpment (Mali, West Africa), in a context of scarcity. Earth shrines are erected at significant points in the landscape and in remote times symbolised the foundation of the territory. They form part of the ritual control of space by reinforcing, through sacrificial practice, a symbolic boundary that encloses and protects the village space. Through their yearly reactivation, this practice firstly enables the Dogon to strengthen their relationship with their god, their ancestors and the spirits that own the place and, secondly, it aims to renew social relationships and maintain the cohesion and continuity of the society whilst simultaneously conveying a sense of well-being. This paper examines the materiality, efficacy and activation principles of Dogon earth shrines that operate through the intervention of complementary living substances: millet and blood. These earth shrines function on an ontological principle of containment by which people protect themselves, act and dwell in the world. That is to say, they endow active principles and play a part in forming a local cosmology in a harsh and changing world.


Anthropology & Medicine External link; 18(2): 167 - 179

Tags: Mali  Dogon  religion  sacred sites  territory  

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