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Dogon Binu shrines

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mali.

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Scattered across the cliffs of the Bandiagara region of Mali are hundreds of small Dogon villages. The origins of the Dogon are lost in the mists of time and their earlier name, Habe, means stranger or pagan. Scholars believe the tribe to be of ancient Egyptian descent. Leaving their ancestral homelands they wandered central Africa until the late 15th century when they migrated to the cliffs of Bandiagara. Yet long before the Dogon arrived these cliffs were used by other people; the Toloy of the 3rd - 2nd centuries BC and the Tellem of the 11th - 15th centuries AD.

Dogon religion is concerned with ancestors and the spirits they encountered as they migrated from their obscure ancestral homelands. There are three principal cults among the Dogon; the Awa, Lebe and Binu. The Awa is a cult of the dead. The cult of Lebe, the Earth God, is concerned with the agricultural cycle. The Binu cult is a totemic practice dealing with Dogon sacred places used for ancestor worship, spirit communication and agricultural rituals. Binu shrines house spirits of mythic ancestors who lived in the legendary era before the appearance of death among mankind. Binu spirits often make themselves known to their descendants in the form of an animal that interceded on behalf of the clan during its founding or migration, thus becoming the clan’s totem. The priests of each Binu maintain the sanctuaries, whose facades are often painted with graphic signs and mystic symbols. Through rituals, the Dogon believe the benevolent force of the ancestors are transmitted to them. The photographs show Binu shrines near Sangha and Arou-by-Ibi. The ostrich eggs atop the roof spires symbolize fertility and purity.

In the late 1940’s, Dogon priests surprised anthropologists by telling them secret Dogon myths about the star Sirius (8.6 light years from the earth). The priests said that Sirius also had a companion star. What makes this so remarkable is that the companion star Sirius B, which is invisible to the human eye, was only discovered by European astronomers in 1862 and first photographed in 1970. The Dogon beliefs, on the other hand, are thousands of years old. In addition to their knowledge of the Sirius group, Dogon mythology includes Saturn's rings and Jupiter's four major moons. They have four calendars, for the Sun, Moon, Sirius, and Venus, and have long known that planets orbit the sun.

More on the Dogon Binu Shrines from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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