Objects of the day: three Dogon pendants from Mali

Dogon pendant not ring Bruno Claessens collection

Pendants? Yes, pendants! Commonly referred to as rings – even by the Metropolitan – these are in fact pendants. They were strung on a cotton band and tied around the waist by women during dance performances. Sometimes there were more than thirty on one belt. While they used to be quite easy to find, they are becoming much more rare nowadays, even generating a production of poorly made copies.

Opinions of what the two cone-like finials represent vary. The most common answer is that these ‘rings’ were symbols of fecundity, representing the breasts of a woman – ‘titty ring’ being used as a colloquial name. Others refer to the breasts of goats or cows. One source state that the form is based on the antlers of antelope masks (walu). Some say the resemble the typical shape of traditional Dogon granaries with pointy roofs. Or, as an informant said to André Blandin (quoted in Bronzes et autres alliages, 1988, p. 37): “I do not know what it represents, but it is part of the beauty”.

The three pendants above I received as a gift from Guy van Rijn; one for me, one for my wife and recently (this fertility object clearly doing its work) another one for our son. We use them as keychains. Since our son doesn’t have keys yet, his – the left one – has still the same color as when we got it. My wife keeps her keys in her purse, so her pendant (in the middle) only got a bit of patina, while my example (on the right) is always in my pocket. After three years the brass got very shiny again with lots of wear on both cone’s incisions and a smooth patina. File as: ‘experimental African art research’ 🙂

The Dogon build four types of granaries: two for the men, and two for the women. The most common type is the square guyo ya (female) granary. There the wife keeps her personal belongings. For some special harvest, the women use a less common round granary (guyo totori). The man of the compound has at least one high granary, the guyo ana (male), with two levels inside, for the storage of millet and sorghum. The second male type of granary, the guyo togu (shelter) serves as a dwelling for a very old man." [Hollyman S. and Van Beek W., 2001: Dogon, Africa's People of the Cliffs. Harry N Abrams, Inc.]. During his trip to Mali, Elisofon visited the Dogon people in Sanga (Sangha), a group of thirteen villages lying east of Bandiagara at the top of an escarpment. The most important villages are Ogol-du-Haut and Ogol-du-Bas. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for National Geographic and traveled to Africa from January 19, 1972 to mid April 1972. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art, Washington.

The Dogon build four types of granaries: two for the men, and two for the women. The most common type is the square guyo ya (female) granary. There the wife keeps her personal belongings. For some special harvest, the women use a less common round granary (guyo totori). The man of the compound has at least one high granary, the guyo ana (male), with two levels inside, for the storage of millet and sorghum. The second male type of granary, the guyo togu (shelter) serves as a dwelling for a very old man.” [Hollyman (S.) and Van Beek (W.), Dogon, Africa’s People of the Cliffs, 2001]. During his trip to Mali, Eliot Elisofon visited the Dogon people in Sanga (Sangha), a group of thirteen villages lying east of Bandiagara at the top of an escarpment. The most important villages are Ogol-du-Haut and Ogol-du-Bas. This photograph was taken when he was on assignment for National Geographic and traveled to Africa from January 19, 1972 to mid April 1972. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African Art.