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The Dogon of Mali
October 20, 2003 7:02 PM   Subscribe

The beautiful and complex culture of the Dogon tribe of Mali... they may have had advanced astronomical knowledge long before their European counterparts. Particularly, their tribe has had a long mystical association with Sirius, leading some to speculate that their ideas had phenomenal roots. Regardless of the mystery, the tribe is also well known for it's amazing masks and intricate art.
posted by moonbird (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obligatory skepdic page on the Dogon and Sirius B. Excerpt:
According to Sagan, western Africa has had many visitors from technological societies located on planet earth. The Dogon have a traditional interest in the sky and astronomical phenomena. If a European had visited the Dogon in the 1920's and 1930's, conversation would likely have turned to astronomical matters, including Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and the center of Dogon mythology. Furthermore, there had been a good amount of discussion of Sirius in the scientific press in the '20s so that by the time Griaule arrived, the Dogon may have had a grounding in 20th century technological matters brought to them by visitors from other parts of earth and transmitted in conversation.

Or, Griaule's account may reflect his own interests more than that of the Dogon. He made no secret of the fact that his intention was to redeem African thought. When the Belgian Walter van Beek studied the Dogon, he found no evidence they knew Sirius was a double star or that Sirius B is extremely dense and has a fifty-year orbit.
posted by skallas at 7:12 PM on October 20, 2003


Thanks for this. I remember seeing an episode of "In Search Of..." about the Dogon tribe. Fascinating stuff.
posted by synecdoche at 10:26 PM on October 20, 2003


Nice. Thanks, moonbird.
posted by plep at 11:01 PM on October 20, 2003


Nice. Thanks, skallas.
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:34 PM on October 20, 2003


GS: Nice. Thanks, skallas.

No prob. I've actually read Temple's book and he goes waaay off the edge. In the Sirius Mystery he claims Egyptians were a backwards confused people until these "amphibians from the sky" landed, turned the area surrounding the Sphinx into a giant pool to rest in and did a little teaching and experimenting here and there. It goes downhill from there. There are issues regarding corrosion on the Sphinx and how many times the Sphinx got a face-lift in antiquity, but this whole approach just spits in the face of ordinary human ingenuity. People, especially colored people, can't learn such things, it must have been aliens!

Temple betrays this quasi-rascist and credulous view that eventually became the mainstream via the X-Files and conspiracy theories.

It seems that there are two things you need to know to "stick it to scientific materialism, rationalism, or just skeptical thought" in the US.

1. The Dogon were visited by aliens.

2. Roswell and Area 51 hold alien remains.

Its interesting to see how both these beliefs continue to spit on human achievement in regards to engineering and knowledge. Stealth fighters? Alien tech. Western astronomers? No need, we have aliens to teach us everything. To me its a substitution for the need for the ultimate alpha-male - namely god and gods.

Its more interesting to see the post-60s and 70s pop-thought just piss all over man as smart animal because of the comforting idea of something or someone in charge that is greater than us. Temple's book is a testament to these people, a bible for people haters and conspiracy nuts who would rather do without the established religious baggage. Or what we now call the 'New Age.'

The old axiom stays: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. None of these characters seem to have produced much in terms of proof, but they have tapped into human need and to many that beats proof any day of the week.

Longer better csicop review here from 1978.

Sadly, this nonsense continues today. Cable television is rife with "unexplained" shows that cater to this type of world-view because it seems there's no way "backwards" or "brown" or "ancient" people could have figured out simple engineering tasks to move large stones or build large structures.
posted by skallas at 12:35 AM on October 21, 2003


to add to all that Skallas, didn't Erik von Däniken even have a TV show on the Discovery channel? *shudder*
posted by dabitch at 3:37 AM on October 21, 2003


Skallas- I was "this close" to adding the Skepdic page, because it's an excellent rebuttal of the claims of Temple et al. Temple, back when he was making the Art Bell circuit, was claiming similar wildness about Egypt, every conspiracist's favorite murky cauldron.

I remain objective about the whole affair, with a shoulder shrug and a "who knows?" Discovering the factual Dogon is just as fascinating to me as the myths that have sprung up around them.
posted by moonbird at 4:37 AM on October 21, 2003


What I want to know is what are the mythic traditions about Canopus? In Doris Lessings Shikasta series, the lesser advanced race influencing Earth (Shikasta) is from Sirius, but the superadvanced race is from Canopus. She implies in a forward that both of these stars feature in lots of early human myths. Once when reading a Time-Life book about India (I was on a retreat), I saw a painting whose title was something like "The Light from Canopus" but that's the only clue I've ever encountered. Googling Canopus doesn't help, and Googling "Canopus Argos" gets a lot of Lessing results.
posted by xian at 6:50 AM on October 21, 2003


/off topic?

Dogons rock, but daily life is not easy.

Dogon women are also part of the fascinating behind-the-scenes science vs. religion tug-of-war surrounding the birth control pill.
posted by magullo at 11:09 AM on October 21, 2003


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