Dogon rock art, Mali

The Dogon are the only known group in Africa to continue the practice of making rock art.

Dogon rock paintings have been photographed for more than 100 years and, examining these photographs, we can see a series of new images appear as well as some repainting of old images. The paintings are applied by finger in red, white, and black pigments. The images depict a range of human ancestral figures, masks, weapons, items of material culture, snakes, lizards, and other images that have cosmological and cultural significance to the Dogon.

Local elders acknowledge that the art is made as part of a boy’s initiation ceremony and this testimony is supported by early ethnographic reports. Some of the painted rock shelters are still used in boys’ initiation rituals today.

These rituals and secret and the act of making the rock art cannot therefore be witnessed by outsiders. Many of the painted shelters retain their circumcision stone in front of the rock art. Although the subject matter of the paintings may be publicly known, the symbolism of the art remains a closely guarded secret, known only to the initiated.

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