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Drawing of Dogon door

The Dogon Granary Door
Granaries are stores for the most treasured possessions so they are decorated to reflect the value placed on them. A richly carved granary door was presented to Burley in Wharfedale by Dogolou Saye, Village Chief, during a visit of Burley residents to Téréli in January 2000.

Here is an explanation of the carvings on the door, written by Dr. Zakari Saye, son of Dogolou Saye, and translated by Dorothy and Janet.

The visitor who journeys to the Dogon country is struck by the considerable number of granaries. They form one of the characteristic features of Dogon villages. Each family owns many granaries in which are stored the precious annual harvest of millet, wheat, beans, onions, peanuts and sorghum. Personal goods and cult objects are also stored there. Granary doors are sometimes richly decorated with human figures, animals and carved geometric designs which originate in the iconography of Dogon myths.

The door is divided into 4 horizontal panels.
1. At the top, on the right is the Hogon, the spiritual leader of the Dogon people. He has to live in the Ginna (mother house). Because of his age, he lives with his eldest son. The Hogon is not allowed to wash; he is licked by a snake called Lebe who represents the Dogon ancestors. Each lick of the snake gives the Hogon an extra day of life.
In the middle (to his right) are the Kanaga masks which symbolise the spirit of man and the creation of the world. The arms at the top represent the heavens and those below the earth. In the middle is the central arc which joins heaven and earth. The Kanaga mask has become an emblem of Mali.
On the extreme left, the wife of the Hogon is shown with their twin sons at her side and their grandson above. The Hogon is not allowed to live with his wife.

2. Underneath this first section a stream of water, on the edge of which are found ducks, crocodiles, fish and turtles, shelters the genie or god of the water (Nommo). This part reminds the Dogon people that their country was once crossed by flowing water.

3. Halfway down can be found the eight Dogon ancestors. These are the founders of the four tribes of the Dogon region (Arou, Dyon, Ono and Domno). Eight of their descendants left the Manding Plateau, 60 km east of Bamako. They are represented in two groups of four, between which have been placed masks which represent the family livestock.

4 Beneath this, on the right, a couple seeks advice about birth. The husband is holding a goat and his wife two cockerels -one white and one black. A pregnant woman is taken to the animist religious leader so she will have a good birth. This consultation grants the women access to assistance from Amma, god of the family.

To the left, a pregnant woman squats in front of the religious leader. She is asking him to pray for her so that she can give birth without difficulty.
(Stories of creation are often illustrated on Dogon granary doors)
Above these images, on the right, is a circle which represents the earth. The Dogon people depict a round earth. A snake surrounds the earth holding his tail in his mouth. Outside the circle of the snake there is water. Someday, if humans annoy him, he will let go of his tail. The earth will be flooded and that will be the end of the world. Man alone is responsible for the end of the world.
On the third panel (to the left), can be seen a Dogon divination in which the diviner is the fox. In the evening, one or several wise elders make their way a few metres out of the village. On a rather sandy patch of ground they prepare some plots of about two metres long and one metre wide called ‘divination tables‘. A single person, or a family, then bring a problem of their own or concerns of the whole village (illness, rain, harvest etc.) and the elders write on the ground using sticks and little stones. The ritual also requires millet stew, carried in a calabash shell, to be poured into a hollow stone, and onto a special clay figurine, accompanied all the while by prayers, in the hope of receiving favourable replies. The next morning, after the foxes have passed over in the night, the elders come to read their replies. (This reading is the divination)

On the borders of the door are snakes, crocodiles and turtles, all venerated by the Dogon people.

“The Dogon granary door is a door, a history, a culture and a life” Dr. Zakari Saye.

This is an example of the very striking artwork made by the Dogon people. Antique pieces are highly valued in the West.