pale fox Amma

In the beginning, before all things, was Amma, God, and he rested  upon nothing. “Amma’s egg in a ball”! was closed, but made of four parts culled “clavicles,” themselves ovoid and attached, as if welded together. Amma is four joined clavicles; he is only these four clavicles. It is said: *Amma’s four joined (stuck together) clavicles form (are) a ball”; and one adds: “After that, there is nothing,” which is to say, aside from that, nothing existed. This egg, in its entirety, is compared to a termite hill, the base of which fans out into several cones; it simultaneously evokes unity and multiplicity, for it is also said: “Amma’s clavicles were stuck together; Amma’s four clavicles were like four eggs.” In their original sense, the four clavicles are also the prefiguration of the four elements, kize nay, “things four:” water (di), air (ono), fire (vau),earth (minne); likewise, the ideal bisectors which separate them will mark the collateral directions, sibe nay, “angles four,” that is to say, space. Thus, all the fundamental elements and future space were present in the morphology of the primordial “egg.” Finally, the clavicles, in another manner, by their union, recall the form of cereal, particularly, the yu grain, a form described by the figure that represents it, called: "figure of the clavicles of Amma". It is said "Amma's clavicle resembles for form of the yu", for "Amma holds life, therefore millet"; it is white, for "Amma is all white" The word amma means: to hold firmly, to embrace strongly and to keep in the same place. "Once calls Amma's name all day long, one calls him when the day begins; he is Hogon (chief) of the scheme, Hogon of wasters' Amma arranges the scheme of things after he had wasted. Amma one is space fourteen )-fold. To pronounce the name of Amma is to preserve all space. The name of Amma is preservation and safe keeping of all things."

"Amma preserved the whole, for he had traced within himself the sign of the world and its extension. For Amma had designed the universe before creating it. The material for the design was water with which he traced figures in space." [I think this is interesting because Thales of Miletus also put forth that water is the primary element and that space is fluid, and recently theoretical physicists have also suggested that space could be fluid.]

"Amma's egg is represented in the form of an oblong picture covered in signs called "Womb of all world signs" the centre of which is the umbilicus. From the meeting point of the two axes extended two intersecting signs, forming bisectors marking the four cardinal directions. Each of the four sections thus formed contained originally eight drawings, each of which, in turn produced eight more. Thus, the oval contained 8 x 8 x 4 that is 256 outlines, to which were added 8 (2 per semi-axis) and 2 for the centre. the total was then 266 "signs of Amma." [note: the number 266 comes up often,  so explaining this simply could be useful for understanding the significance when it comes up again]

"An element is attributed to each sector. Counter-clockwise, beginning from the right lower sector, they are: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The two central signs at the intersection of the axes are the "guide-signs" (literally, "eye signs"); the four pairs placed in the four sectors are called "master-signs"; the 256 signs are "the complete signs of the world". All of these signs as a whole are also called "invisible Amma."

"“The guide-signs show (make known) the series'* of the eight master- signs.” This is to say that they govern and classify the following signs. As for the “eight master-signs, they give soul and life force to everything.”'* In addition, these “ten signs determine whether (a thing) is great or small in volume.”! Finally, “the complete signs of the world give all things color, form, substance.”!° Thus do they allow an understanding of the creation, for “one knows the root (the principle or essence) of things by their form, their substance, their color.”! This amounts to saying that signs, manifestations of creative thought, existed before the things that they determined. “In the Dogon word (idea), all things are

manifested by thought; they are not known by (i.e., do not exist in) themselves.”! " [Note: This is vitally important, the idea that creative thought came before matter, and "all things are manifested by thought". It's a key part of philosophy to understand their worldview.]

"In the graphic depiction, the mechanism of creation thus contains ten fixed signs (two “guides” and eight “masters”), which give life to the mobile (“complete”) signs, which then bring things into existence.

a) The first of the two “guides” is called burigia goy, “the springing forth of conception”. The essential part, air, is formed in the center by a sort of “S” (from b to c); the air blows on the water, the bent segment (b to d), recalling the winding of the torrents, making it spurt into droplets, which form beings. It acts in like manner on the earth, indicated by the lightly curved extension of the “S” (from d to the end). It erodes the earth and projects it into dust, which forms beings. Fire, lower part of the “S” (a to b), is as if separated from the other elements; in its meandering are seen the wood of the hearths (break on the left) and the rising flame (break on the right). Air blows upon the

fire, which throws off sparks and forms beings. Mixing together the whole and creating from his own substance a fourth type of beings Amma causes in each of the particles an explosion that is at the origin of existence. "

"b) The second of the two “guides” is called “sign of the envelope” (kogo bummo). It is made with a simple vertical line representing the envelope (kogo)*® of beings (fig. 3, to the left). Its role is to bring over to the “master signs,” repositories of souls and forces, the exuviae of the “four elements” used in the mixture determined by the first guide.

The exuviae are the testimony of existing things; they remain inside of Amma and recall that in the beginning Amma first created his own twin, that is, the universe itself. Just as the universe is the replica of Amma and contains him, this universe was — and will remain — contained by Amma in the form of signs. " [note: Amma creating his own twin, and that twin is the universe is extremely interesting. We need to include that.]

"c) The pairs of “master-signs” assigned to each sector (fig. 4) relate to the corresponding elements of which they represent two principal states.

— In A, we see an obliquely laid arc with a straight segment on the bottom forming a hook. This is the sign of the earth in its incompleteness (because the segment is to be broken by the Fox who will steal the end of it In a, a sign vaguely repeating A, the bottom part forming a hook, is the piece stolen by the Fox, who descends along the vertical axis. The stolen part is represented by a thinner line, minimizing the felonious act.

—In B, a hooked curve with a straight end recalls the crooked stick of the ritual thief with which he stole the celestial fire, that was later used by the blacksmith. In d, the forge oven and firewood are represented by a thick curved line raised on the right, ended by a thinner appendage,

the flame. "

— In C, an arc, with its concavity directed to the left, is attached to a tilted straight segment, symbolizing the opening of the sky giving passage to water. At the juncture of the two segments, the thinner line of the arc’s extremity represents the source from which issue forth two flows of water. In c, this opening has grown larger to permit the descent of the “ark of the world”; the line of c, which widens from bottom to top, represents a widening flow of water.

— In D, along, thin, wide-open crescent moon is the air spread across all the regions; thick in the center, it is rarer in the heights and depths of space. d is a sort of thick scythe, wide open with a thin handle. It symbolizes strong, warm air, the handle being the air of cool climates.

The role of the “master-signs” is to receive, one by one, the signs ejected by the first guide before they are thrown into space to manifest things.

d) The development of “complete signs,” the third sort of sign, from creation to the realization of the thing, is shown here below, taking as an example that of the house.

The sign of the house (fig. 5) in Amma’s body, before any manifestation, is made of a point a, called “courtyard of the house,” ginu gonno, which belongs to the earth sector. The courtyard, where all those living in the house must pass through, is the meeting place of souls and forces, the place of words and ideas. “In this point is the idea for the future design of the house,””’, that is to say, the idea of the four signs articulated into one, which form that of the house, and which are:

— Line }, thick, forming an obtuse angle at a, up and to the left, and called “form of the house” (ginu yege); it is in the domain of the earth. — The very wide are c “post of the house” (ginu dey), from a to the right; it is somewhat widened at its end to recall the irregularity of the house which grows in every direction. It is in the domain of fire, for wood is at the source of man’s fire.

— After c and its extension, a thin line, e, is the “life force of the house” (ginu nyama). Line d, somewhat thicker than e and parallel to it, is the “soul of the house” (ginu kikinu).*

— Finally, the open arc f, to which are attached d and e, is the “wind of the house,” which has brought the soul. It is in the domain of air. Arc g, which extends it by bending back toward 5, is the “water of the house” (ginu di), which brought the force, nyama. It ends in a point, the source.

It belongs to the domain of water.

In the form of point a, the sign first passes through the “master-signs” corresponding to it in the earth sector, where it receives the souls and force, nyama, of the house, which gives it form b. Then it comes into contact with the “master-signs” of the fire sector, where it takes on c. In the “master-signs” of the air sector it takes on f, which gives form to the soul, until then attached to the nyama. In the water sector it takes on g. Souls and nyama are definitively separated; thus, each sign contains one principal element and, less importantly, the three others.

Continuing to turn, the sign is ejected from the picture and describes a spiral plane, in the course of which the four parts separate to each take on a new appearance." [ note / question: Are the master-signs meant to represent the Nommo?]

"—b, the form, becomes b’, earth, because it is the earth which gives the house its form. Arc-shaped, the sign shows one thick end, the first earth and first world, and a tapered one, the second earth and second world.

— Onc’, an arch with the right end raised, the left break symbolizes the hearth where the wood burns that is used in construction.

— f becomes /’, the form of which is similar to that of c’, and it shows a meandering downstroke to recall the vibration of the air. — g’ corresponding to g, shows a tapered extension of its lower

branch, the flowing of water. But the forms and the volumes were not abruptly acquired. In the

course of these transformations, which proceed in a continuous movement, like a series of explosions each element of the decomposition was formed through seven stages, respectively marked by the sign corresponding to each of the seven increasingly larger volumes. "

"Theoretically, each of these seven signs possesses a “soul,” which is eventually mixed in with the others and with the whole; hence, the name of kikinu say (euphemism for kikinu soy, “souls seven”) given to the spiritual principles, which are the consciousness and intelligence of every being. When each part is formed according to the process described above, the sign, in its four-part situation, manifests the thing created, brings it into existence: “Amma’s signs, which he sent into the world, went, entered into things which (at that moment) became.”

But if the sign precedes the thing signified, it is dependent upon the conscious and active mind. It is said, “Amma, in beginning things, chose the bummo with thought. The first design, it is through (the work of) thought that it was divided (into four). It is (also by) this that the final design (in four parts) was made.” It is the mind which conceived and produced the initial design and which perfected it by dividing it, so as to specify the essence of things. In its first state, the sign is an articulated

whole, then divided into four parts, permitting the recognition of the basic elements which give rise to the thing. But a thing, in turn, is a rearticulation of the parts forming a complete and unique whole, which is the thing itself: “The sign of Amma is one (whole). (Amma) broke it down (into) distinct (parts), he presented the image of the four elements, (the thing) existed (by forming) a whole.And having sprung into existence, the thing becomes conscious of itself, “comprehends itself,””’ as indicated by the presence of the kikinu say, “intelligent soul,” in the sign. It does all the more so in that the purpose of the decomposition was to go into the details of a definition,

more explicitly by the separate elements than by the total sign they finally form.

All of the “complete signs” undergo the transformations and elaborations presented above. They are the development of a family comparable to that of man and mythical ancestors: the initial pair at the center is the pair of great Nommo. The eight masters are the eight ancestors; the others are descendants of the first ten, and they form a set of nani, that is, of relays supporting the spiritual principles of the first. Moreover, in the formation itself of the abstract signs that prefigure

the world the very essence is manifest of this creation that is about to be sexualized. The being created will possess male principles, ana, and female principles, ya. Of this it is said: “Amma, when he created a living thing, puts the kikinu say ya in the designs of the placenta. The kikinu

say ana is placed in the womb itself. In each articulation of the sign there are the different designs of the kikinu say ya. The different articulations all drawn together are like a person.”

With regard to social structure, “the 266 mother-signs belong to the four families as a whole.” ? As such, they will be schematically represented either on the walls and doors of dwellings and on the main family sanctuaries, or in the sacred fields. Moreover, Amma’s 266 bummo, of which we have seen the basic division into 8 (cf. p. 84), are also classified in the following manner: 6, then 20, then 4 times 60. During the sowing celebration, when the sacrifice is offered on the altar called manna amma, “Amma of the sky,” the Arou priest says: “Amma’s number is 266; it begins with 6 bummo to

which are added 20; 4 times 60 more; Amma made 6 bummo of things in the beginning; he added 20 (then) placed 4 times 60 more (bummo).”These two ways denote a division in base 8, female, and a division in base 6, male. This expresses that the bummo, symbol of Amma’s creative thought, contains in essence — by the specific value of the number, another fundamental expression of the groundwork of creation —sexual twinness, male and female, which will be at the base of the

realization in matter of divine thought.* " [note: keeping track of the significance and gender of numbers could be useful, as other traditions such as Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, and Persian also have this.]


The 266 signs of Amma, called “‘mother-signs,” burmmmo na, are classified into categories which sum up the essence of his thought.  This distribution defines itself as follows:
— The two “guide-signs” by virtue of their essence “belong” to Amma

alone, and because of this they are set apart;

— the 264 following signs are classified into 22 categories, called

“twenty-two families of king-things” (kize ogo pelley ley sige togu); they

each bear a name that characterizes their content; they are, in order:











nay banu





toro may






di bana

Each of these categories includes twelve signs.

“Amma,” God



“Binou,” totem

“(spoken) word”

ceremony of the winter solstice, the Dogon new year


“father come” spring (sowing)

“winter-time” rainy season

“father gone” autumn (harvest)

“red sun,” dry, hot season





“pottery work”





“master of water,” Nommo

But the abstract signs are not limited to the first series. Just as the

universe will expand, as the beings created by Amma will multiply, as

the worlds formed by him will be innumerable, so too the signs must

multiply. Each of them, in the beginning, is considered as having to

form, in its turn, a series of 266 signs. It is said: “Two hundred sixty-six

(signs) emerge from the inside (foundation) of each sign.” Also, the

signs will proliferate in order to produce in the abstract all of the things

which must make up the universe. "


The development of the beings and things of the universe is prefig-

ured not only by the 266 bummo and their multiplication, but also by the

modification and progression of the form of the sign that will lead to the

realization of the thing or being.

Because after the first series, that of abstract signs or “trace” bummo,

will come the second series, that of the yala “mark” or “image,”

executed in dotted lines (fig. 8). “The yala of a thing is like the begin-

ning of the thing.”** Therefore, when one builds a house, one delineates

the foundation with stones placed at the corners: these stones are the

yala, the “marks,” of the future dwelling. The term yala also has the

meaning of “reflection,” which expresses the future form of the thing

represented. (signs) emerge from the inside (foundation) of each sign.” Also, the

signs will proliferate in order to produce in the abstract all of the things

which must make up the universe.


The development of the beings and things of the universe is prefig-

ured not only by the 266 bummo and their multiplication, but also by the

modification and progression of the form of the sign that will lead to the

realization of the thing or being.

Because after the first series, that of abstract signs or “trace” bummo,

will come the second series, that of the yala “mark” or “image,”

executed in dotted lines (fig. 8). “The yala of a thing is like the begin-

ning of the thing.”** Therefore, when one builds a house, one delineates

the foundation with stones placed at the corners: these stones are the

yala, the “marks,” of the future dwelling. The term yala also has the

meaning of “reflection,” which expresses the future form of the thing

represented. thing or being represented. The word tonu comes from tono, “to portray,”

which also means “to begin,” but in the dynamic sense of the word.*4 It is

said that Amma “began things,” amma kize tono, to demonstrate the

initial impetus he gave to creation. This idea of impulsion is not expressed

in amma kize mana, “Amma created things,” which denotes the action

undertaken and finished by Amma. The tonu of the house connotes the

pebbles that have been placed between the corner-stones to delimit the

walls (fig. 8).

The fourth series consists of the “drawings,” toymu (or toy), as realisti-

cally representative of the thing as possible. It is also the thing itself.

When one has finished the building of a house, it is as if one had made a

complete drawing, toymu, of the house.

In speaking of the toy and of Amma, one says: “To make the drawing is

to make the thing that he (Amma) has in mind.” It is, therefore, to

represent the thing created in its reality.

The successive appearance of the spiritual principles is also stressed

by the progressions of the figures: in the bummo are the four kikinu of

body, which are the four elements created by Amma from them. In the

yala and the tonu is placed the life force, nyama. Thus, the nyama of

earth is in the stones at the corners of houses which are said to possess

“the nyama of the corners of the house.”"* It is said of the tonu of the

house (that is, the elements placed between the stones at the corners

defining the wall boundaries), that it possesses “the nyama of the four

sides of the house.”?” In the toymu, the living being is animated and his

spiritual principles are gathered together. The toymu of the house is like

the house itself containing the four elements. And as the house is an

inanimate being, its “souls,” Aikinu, remain in the initial bummo in the

hands of Amma: their evidence will be the incorruptible bulb called

nono*® (a word meaning “immortal”), which is placed deep in the

ground at one of the corners of the house.

With regard to living beings, the process of coming into being is the

same. The semen that penetrates the woman is called i yala illi “blood-

mark of the child.” It is transformed into the fetus which is the tonu; the

child itself, when it has been completely formed, is a toy: “The four

(body) kikinu of man are the yala (images) of the four elements together;

man’s four kikinu are (like) tonu; aman by himself is a toy. °° When the

mother’s belly stirs, it is said: “The woman’s belly has drawn the child.’“°

In like manner, the succession of figures is representative of the

growth of grain. “Drawing the bummo is like (drawing) the life of the

grain; drawing the yala is like the seeding; drawing the tonu like the

germination; drawing the toy like the growth of the stem.”*! And one

adds: “Carving is like the forming of the ear.’*?

The difference that exists between these various representations

expresses the stages of creation. (That is why we give the pertinent

explanations here.)

In the bummo lies a prefiguration of the being, not in its physical

form, but insofar as a material form may be interpreted into the image of

the ideas and functions related to the being that is represented.

— The bummo of the po prefigure its spiral movement. The mage

does not connote a seed, but the internal life of that seed.

— The bummo of the house made of associated elements connotes

the “family circle” around the dwelling’s central courtyard.

— The bummo of the nommo anagonno, symbol of the fetus, is the image

of its future multiplication and of the number of its spiritual principles.”

Thus, the abstraction we attribute to the bummo, which is a real one

with respect to the material realization of the being it designates, is only

a pseudo-abstraction: the symbolism encompasses characters, ideas,

functions, and designs. The yala, on the contrary, brings into play two complementary yet

different elements:

1. By a dotted line - drawing it connotes the theoretical design of the

being represented, this theory also defining function, here associated

with form.

2. The dotted line is number, and this number corresponds to the

fundamental numerical classification of the universal elements. In this

way, the dotted line classifies the thing:

— The yala of the house indicates the corners of the future dwelling,

the supports for the structure. It is made of twelve dots, the number

attributed to uncultivated land and to the Fox.

— The yala of Amma’s “egg” features within it a spiral indicating the

form of the development of life inside the “egg.” It is made of 266 dots,

standing for the 266 fundamental signs.“

The tonu is a diagram which connotes the being in the process of

formation, focusing upon the organs or elements essential to that being:

The tonu of the nommo anagonno connotes:

a) its internal organs at the rough draft stage,

b) the “putting into place” of these elements.“

The toy is a drawing which attains maximum realism. “toymu (drawing)

and tonu (figure) are not alike. The drawing resembles the thing (repre-

sented) and the figure is the diagram of the image (symbol) of the thing.’

The independence and autonomy of the sign in relation to the drawing

representing the formed being are also emphasized: “The sign is and walks

about in the mind and the head. The words of the drawing are in the

body. The word (of) that which is painted is in the joints. The sign is the

drawing that walks about.” And again: “The sign of the Dogon (spoken)

word represents things. The sign is things that move about in the world.

The sign is the thing of all men. Commerce makes things go around in

the world. The sign and commerce are one thing, just one word.” Moreover, as we have seen, first the sign and then the diagrams are

evidence of the genesis of the thing they represent; whereas the drawing

realizes it and therefore leads it to its end. It is said: “The sign which one

writes (is) the good to come. The drawing that one draws is, after the

good, the bad (which) follows (literally: ends).”4? This expression is

commented upon as follows: “In Amma’s body were the signs. Amma

made the world through the addition of signs (that is, by accumulating

signs). The signs went into each thing, transformed themselves into

drawings, drew the departure toward the end (that is, marked the

beginning of the transition). The sign is (a) good thing (always) there;

the drawing is a thing that has an end.”°° To draw is to make (something)

begin to be, thus marking the first step toward destruction.

But if the sign and the drawing are the history of the past, they are also

a means of acting upon the future. The ritual execution of successive

graphic designs is effectual and active: it promotes the existence of the

thing represented, “re-edits” it by having it pass through its successive

stages of formation (particularly on the inside and on the facade of


The material used for the figures has a value in itself; hence, the use of

this or that variety of cereal grain in the preparation of the porridges

intended for their production, and the use of red earth, bana, of charcoal,

etc., for figures in color. Added to the symbolism of the figure itself is

the symbolism of the color used. Polychrome paintings, so-called toy

lelemu, “variegated drawings,” attain a maximum of expression and

effectiveness (Plate VII).

We have seen that the morphology of the bummo is associated with

the presence of the four elements (kize nay), which remains implicit in

the series of figures that follow it. But all must show evidence of the

compleméntary presence of the four directions of space (sibe nay),

which will locate the thing represented: thus all figures will always be


The bummo, symbol of Amma’s work, accomplished in the confines

of his “bosom,” is ritually executed — and generally only once — under the altars at the time of their founding, or inside the sanctuaries where

none except the priest responsible may penetrate. On the other hand,

the toy drawings representing the realized thing (which has) “emerged

from the bosom,” are made on the facades of dwellings or sanctuaries

and may be seen by all. In addition, the drawing is washed by the rain,

which “carries along (to the outside)” its form and force to “give it to

man” and to promote that which it represents into reality.

Example: the first year of the construction of a totemic sanctuary, the

priest himself draws the po with the porridge of po pilu inside the

building. The second year, the po is drawn on the outside by the

sacrificer; the rain water “carries down the drawing to the fields,” where

it promotes growth.

This idea of the specific action of the sign or drawing in the future also

applies to the lines traced on the ground for divination on the tables of

the Fox. It is said: “The things which one draws, one draws the drawings

in order to know the things which will come tomorrow (that is, in the


Finally, the graphic designs contain a teaching: the abstract sign,

executed in a profane manner, but in secret (in the image of the “secret”

of God’s bosom where it was formed), is done for the initiate; the actual

drawing, which all may see, is for the neophyte. For they form a system

of archives. “The signs of things of the past teach the children; the signs

of things of the past, that is the road one follows; it is so that the children

will take again (re-make) the signs of the old things (customs) that one

draws them.”°?

The more signs a man possesses the more learned he is; the knowl-

edge of the elements of creation consists not only of the knowledge of

the sign, but of the elements that compose it. Yet no one would know

how to invent a bummo, nor how to modify the traditional set of

bummo. To trace a new sign would be to create a new thing, thus to go

“further” than Amma.

One would say of a person acting this way: “He has surpassed (lacked

respect for) Amma,” amma galay.**

Upon executing the figures, the priest says: “May the mind of Amma

pass into me; may Amma place me before men, may he add more life to


This conception of creation is recalled by a figure of the 266 primordal

signs schematically drawn under a raised stone at the time when it is

erected in a certain area representing, in the territory of Sanga, the

“seat of Amma,” amma doy (cf. Map II, A and Plate VI: 1). This place is

theoretically both the “picture of signs” and the “center of Amma’s

egg,” his first manifestation after the picture itself (fig. 9). Itis said of this

figure of 266 signs: “The bummo, which are Amma himself, are the 266

things that he began.”*

It reflects the series of signs which repeat the successive stages of all

things: the bummo (are shown) by zigzagging dashes (this formation

testifying to the “life” of the bummo); the yala by dashed lines; the tonu

shown on a circle divided into four segments: their appearance, which is

that of form, is also that of space, for they stand for the four collateral

directions or “angles four,” sibe nay. Finally, the central toy where the

signs are linked in a zigzagging line, thus evincing both their final stage

and their animation.°°

In this system of representation, the succession of figures also signi-

fies the presence of the four elements, the bummo being air, the yala

fire, the tonu water, and the toy earth. An analogous figure is drawn

under the altar to Amma in the first Arou ginna, located at Arou-near-

Ibi, but the four segments of tonu, also oriented, present the cardinal

directions, benne nay, “sides four,” in relation to terrestrial space,

whereas those in the preceding figure are positioned according to a

celestial orientation (sibe nay “angles four”). The role of the signs is recalled by the prayer accompanying the

sacrifice offered on this altar at the time of the goru ceremony (performed

at the winter solstice).

The patriarch who convenes the whole family in the ginna says: “Amma of

the ginna, who emerged from the body of Amma the creator, may Amma

give us persons (to be born), from his body there came forth 266 things;

porridge of ara geu (earth). The four substances produce four colors also associated with

these representations.give us marriage, give us children to be born; have us bear (upon our

shoulder) the casting stick (donnolo); give us the eight grains and the

calabash as the ninth; take and drink (the sacrifice); drink not the blood

of man but that of fowl, of beasts; make that the ‘coming (out) of the

father’ (the harvest) finds us (in the same place).”** Then he orders the

sacrificer to make the offering by saying: “pour” (suro).

The autonomy of the sign (bummo) and its character of primordial

essence of the thing it designates, by a sort of manipulation of the four

elements, are also emphasized by the fact that only the three circles

yala, tonu and toy are drawn under the altar called anakazu dummo,

“stone of the worthy,” consecrated to Amma and placed in the central

square (tay) of each village at the time of its founding; for if the amma

doy represents “Amma in the sky,” the anakazu dummo represents him

on Earth among mankind. The stone is carved into a slight point (in the

form of an egg); it is quadrangular, the corners marking the cardinal

directions of the future “opening of Amma’s egg.”°?

Moreover, the entire set of signs, in all their forms (bummo, yala, toy,

and tonu), is drawn on the inside and on the facade of the principal

totemic sanctuaries over a period of sixty years, sixty being the “number

of the placenta” (me lugu). In their totality they are called: “drawings of

all the years which come” or “drawings of all of the sixty years.”° “On

the sanctuary, one draws some things, (that) goes (i-e., leaves) and will

happen (up until) sixty years.”*!

Now, for every sanctuary the series of figures drawn each year is

different. “Each year, the drawings change for every different sanctuary.” The entire set of drawings of all the sanctuaries drawn in a single year

represents, in mythical time, “Amma’s work of one day.” “In one year

the different drawings on the sanctuary, this is Amma’s work of one day.

The different drawings that one draws on the sanctuary each year, when

one arrives at sixty years, (their) entirety is the number of Amma who

creates the world.”™

So, for all the totems of the Dogon people, all of Amma’s signs that

formed the world are repeated over a period of time, which connotes

the time or duration of Amma’s creation. This repetition, considered

active and effectual, has as its function to perpetuate the being or the

thing represented.

The 266 primordial signs are executed on the platform of the Hogon

of Arou during the ordination ceremonies of that dignitary. The figure

consisting of a circle (made with the porridge of yu and ara geu), in the

center of which are placed 266 dots, is drawn by the patriarch of the

oldest family of the tribe which founded the village; he then has the new

Hogon sit upon the signs.

In the past the whole set of signs was carved on the entrance door of

the Arou chief; this was the collective work of the oldest smiths, chosen

from among the demmene.® It was made of two panels that were joined

together, each showing eleven columns of twelve elements, a total of

264 (fig. 10, A).°’ The whole set was surrounded, or rather connected, by

a sort of network formed by the twenty-two signs of series 11 of the di

bana category (fig. 10, B), which, carved according to numerical order,

marked the angles of a broken spiral, starting at the center and unwinding

toward the periphery, closing upon itself again.

The eight doors of the various dwellings and annexes of a large family

formerly used to be covered with signs reserved for the tribe. The most

important one, ogo ta, “chief door,” placed at the entrance of the dwelling,

showed half of the signs; together the following seven showed the other half.

The creation and the picture of the signs are also commemorated

annually before sowing (bado) by the following ritual. Early in the

morning the head of the family goes to the “field of the ancestors,” vageu

minne, and clears a neat area at the center for making the signs. On

this spot he then places a tazu basket upside down to draw a circle,

which will bear the same name as the altar of the field: then he makes a

pile of stones, sogo. Facing the east, he first draws on the ground a

small circle about 12 cm. in diameter inside the first circle, with a dot in

the center. In the course of that day, he makes a zigzag line around the inner circle, repeating this twenty-two times, so as to fill the outer circle

with anintricate tangle oflinesrepresenting all possible signs (fig. 11).One

says of this gesture: “The 266 (signs) are drawn in the center of the field of

the ancestors.”*? While he is drawing them, the patriarch says: “Amma,

give rain, give ripe millet, may the millet re-enter by the East.The area of the field on which the signs are made remains clear of

grain, but one places a bit of manure outside at the four cardinal points

and plants a seed, which is covered with a mound of earth.

The central circle, not covered by signs, is the sky; around it are the

heavenly bodies. To each sign corresponds a heavenly body. The four

seeds are the four cardinal points. The drawing also connotes all the

grains which are thus represented in the yu field, even though they are

not actually sown. The field is then seeded by the family; in the wintertime,

one can recognize in the empty center the spot where the signs were



Thus, by signs, the direct expression of his thought, Amma will begin

his creation, the creation of the “world” aduno. “The bummo, which are

Amma himself, are the 266 beginning things (i.e., that he began).””!

One says of Amma that he “began things,” amma kize tono; this last

term in its dynamic sense indicating the initial impetus he gave to

creation, as well as his intention to create. “When Amma began (tono)

things, he had his thought in his mind. The thought he had written (tono)

in his mind. His thought, it is the first figure (tonu).””

But one also emphasizes the identity of “signs” and of “words,” the

verbal expression of thought. Thus, it is said that “in the clavicles of

Amma in a ball, all the things he had were signs.”’° But, “if the signs

existed before the words, words and signs of Amma’s clavicle are one.”

One emphasizes this identity in affirming that “the roots (bases) of the

entire Dogon tongue are numerous like the number of signs.””°

The egg with signs is called “egg of Amma guardian of the world.”

When creation will be terminated and then destroyed, one will say of it

“the empty egg of Amma who destroyed the life of the world,” ”’ because

just as Amma began the world by the sign, it is by destroying the signs that

he will annihilate it. "