On the Dogon Restudied

by Genevieve Calame-Griaule
On the Dogon Restudied
Genevieve Calame-Griaule
Current Anthropology
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Volume 32, Number 5, December 1991 1 575

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1980. Interstades wiirmiens: Laugerie et Lascaux. Bulletin de 1'Association Fran~aise pour 1'Etude du Quaternaire 3:95-100.

1986. "The palynology of La Riera Cave," in La Riera Cave. Edited by L. G. Straus and G. A. Clark, pp. 59-64. An- thropological Research Papers 36.


lyses polliniques de la grotte de Lascaux," in Lascaux inconnu, pp. 75-80. Gallia Prkhistoire, suppl. 12. MUGICA, T. A. 1983. Industria del hueso en la prehistoria de Guipuzcoa. Munibe 35:45 1-63 I. PAQUEREAU, M. M. 1978. Flores et climats du Wurm 111 dans le sud-ouest de la France. Quaternaria 20:123-64.

PENAL BA, C. 1989. Dynamique de vegetation tardiglaciaire et holocene du c&ntre-nord de 1'Espagne d'apres l'analyse polli- nique. Thesis, Universite dfAix-Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, France.

PONS, A. 1984. A propos de l'apport de la palynologie quater- naire a la connaissance de la for& bourguignonne. Bulletin de la Socitte Botanique de France 13 1:49-5 3.

PONS, A,, AND M. REILLE. 1988. The Holocene and Upper Pleistocene pollen record from Padul (Granada, Spain): A new study. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 66:243-63.

REILLE, M. 1990. Le~on de palynologie et d'analyse pollinique. Paris: C.N.R.S. RENAULT-MISKOVSKY, J. 1986. L'environnement aux temps de la prehistoire: Methodes et modkles. Paris: Masson.

RENAULT-MISKOVSKY, T., AND ARLETTE LEROI-GOURHAN.. 1981. Palynologie et archeologie: Nouveaux resultats due Pa- leolithique superior au Mesolithique. Bulletin de 1'Association Fran~aise pour 1'Etude de Quaternaire 7-8:121-28.

RUDDIMAN, W. F., AND A. MC INTYRE. 1981. The North At- lantic Ocean during the last deglaciation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 35 :I 45-2 14.

SANCHEZ GO NI, M. F. 1990. "Analyse palynologique de sites prehistoriques du Pays Basque: Premiers resultats pour les grottes de Lezetxiki et Urtiaga," in The environment and hu- man society in the western Pyrenees and the Basque moun- tains during the Upper Pleistocene and the Holocene. Edited by A. Cearreta and F. M. Ugarte, pp. 111-30.

Laboratoire Langage et Culture en Afrique de I'Ouest,

INALCO, 2 rue de Lille, Paris 75007, France. 29 v 91

Van Beek's (CA 32: I 39-58) conclusions are rather sur- prising. It is not that his approach is exceptionable in itself: evaluation of a field already studied, by oneself or others, several decades later is characteristic of current anthropological research into the evolution of societies and cultures. It is unusual, however, for a specialist in ecology to attack such monumental problems of religion as are posed by Griaule's work and to attempt to repli- cate the whole process carried on from 193 I to 1956 (the year of his premature death) and continued thereafter, to different degrees, by other researchers-among them Germaine Dieterlen, Solange de Ganay, Jean Rouch, Luc de Heusch, and myself (although van Beek for some rea- son does not consider me one of them). Having sought without success to reconstruct (or should we say decon- struct?) that enormous edifice, he comes to a conclusion that might be styled at the least ingenuous: that because he has not found it, none of it existed. Thence he nimbly leaps to a view of Griaule as, if not a liar, at least an imaginative genius who, along with certain privileged informants, fabricated a cosmogonic system that could emulate that of Hesiod.

In reading his article, one wonders about his research method. While he criticizes Griaule's, he tells us noth- ing about his own. How did he ask his questions? One


1991. Analyses palynologiques des remplissages de grotte de Lezetxiki, Labeko et Urtiaga (Pays Basque espagnol): Leur place dans le cadre des sequences polliniques de la cBte canta- brique et des Pyrenees occidentales (De la taphonomie polli- nique a la reconstitution de l'environnement). Thesis, Museum

National dJHistoire Naturelle, Paris, France. STRAUS, L. G. 1991a. Southwestern Europe at the Last Glacial Maximum. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 32:189-99.

. 1g91b. Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic adaptations in Can- tabrian Spain and Pyrenean France. [ournal of World Prehistory 5:83-104.

TURNER, C. 1985 "Problems and pitfalls in the application of palynology to Pleistocene archaeological sites in Western Eu- rope," in Palynologie archeologique. Edited by J. Renault-Miskovsky, Bui-Thi-Mai, and M. Girard, pp. 347-73. Paris:


TURNER, c., AND G. E. HANNON. 1988. Vegetational evidence for the Late Quaternary climatic changes in southwestern Eu- rope in relation to the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 318:451-85.

VAN CAMPO, M. M. 1976 "La methode pollenanalytique en archCologie," in La prehistoire fran~aise. Edited by H. de Lum- ley, pp. 463-64. Paris: C.N.R.S. . 1984. Relations entre la vegetation de 1'Europe et les temperatures de surface oceaniques apres le dernier maximum glaciaire. Pollen et Spores 26:497-518.

WOILLARD, G., AND W. G. MOOK. 1982. Carbon-14 dates at Grande Pile: Correlation of land and sea chronologies. Science ~15:159-61.

On the Dogon Restudied


readily imagines him, Dieu d'eau and Renard p4le in hand, asking informants (whose identity, moreover, eludes us) about the veracity of each phrase. Whatever one thinks of it, this sort of detective work could only

have been received by Dogon with mistrust. First of all, some are really ignorant. Apart from the fact that knowl- edge is not shared by everyone (what average Christian, even a believer, knows all the subtleties of the Bible and the Church Fathers?), many of the elders who possessed it (wholly or more often in part) have died without hav- ing passed their legacy of "words" on to their descen- dants, who are no longer concerned with it and only want to be modern, that is, Muslim. Such has been the fate of some of Griaule's main informants, for example, the venerable patriarch Ongnonlou. At the same time, even those who still "know" would be unable to answer questions without understanding their intent. Why would anyone wish to redo the work of Griaule, and why ask questions to which Dogon have already re- sponded? Has he perhaps been sent by the political and administrative authorities to test the Dogon's Muslim orthodoxy? In any case, he has not gone through the appropriate steps for acquiring lznowledge, as is apparent

in his abrupt approach to problems of which one speaks

only with caution.

The Dogon have three kinds of possible responses to this type of inquiry: (I)simply to answer, "I don't know" (ko ka innem);' (2)more subtly, to make some such ironic response as van Beek himself records ("All the books have already been written about us!" [p. 1441 and "The people who said that, were they by any chance present at the creation, or did they come before it?" [p. I SO]),stereotyped phrases that the Dogon use when they want to get rid of someone (one finds them, for example, in the reports of journalists who are also trying to recon- struct the system); and (3)to respond with information on the first level of knowledge (which may also be that of the informant himself). I think that this explains why the "discoveries" of van Beek often coincide with the first information gathered by ethnologists in the thirties. Characteristic in this regard are the concept of Nommo as a water spirit essentially associated with the fear of drowning and the manner in which informants trace the terms of the language to their basic senses-the various steps in the outlining of graphic signs (which also corre- spond to the development of creative thought and of the "word") becoming (or rather becoming again) a "contin- uous track" (bumo), an "intermittent track" (yala), etc. We are dealing here with a mere truism.

But besides this (correct) information at the first level, which is essential also because it leads to other informa- tion, van Beek's article contains so many misreadings that it is impossible to correct them in limited space; moreover, they concern notions present in the early work, the most striking having to do with the binu, twins, sacrifice, and nyama (the alleged confusion of this with panga, "physical force," is pure derision). The value of numbers, the importance of the body for the person and the world, the very notion of the person, the symbolic classifications relating man to his natural environment-all this is crossed out, so to speak, with the stroke of a pen, although it has been reported for other systems of African thought since Griaule called attention to it. With regard to the "word," one of the keys to the view of the world and of man, it is entirely overlooked here, when it is in DE that its creative and fecundating role is first brought to light. I believe that I have since confirmed the revelations of Ogotemm&li in approaching the study of the "word" from a different viewpoint, that of man and society, and demonstrated the incredible logic of the whole system (Calame- Griaule 1965); but van Beek mentions this work only in passing.

The Dogon myth as it appears in the RP does not, it is true, constitute a single text and could never, of course, be recited from beginning to end. It has never been offered as anything but a reconstruction based on an enormous body of commentary and even variants (as with all myths) whose contradictions can be demon- strated to be only apparent. For the Dogon, there are

I. The transcription of Dogon words employed here is very much simplified.

always different ways of saying things. Numerous texts of oral literature constitute plotted versions of portions of a myth. What we have here is mythic narratives that take the form of tales but are presented as "ancient words," that is, myth. The tales themselves, at a certain level, display the great lines of force of mythic and sym- bolic thought and in particular the great oppositions that govern the world view. Van Beek does not understand much about these tales, and he chooses a poor example to demonstrate the unimportance of twins. The tale of the twins and the rainbow is part of a vast West African corpus that we have called "tales of the enfant terrible" (Gorog et al. 1980); these are highly initiatory texts, and the Dogon version aptly demonstrates the cosmic role of twins.

While one might criticize Griaule for having, after DE, oriented his work exclusively toward myth and having seen in it the justification for all Dogon institutions, one might just as easily reverse the problem and see in myth-what it is, moreover, everywhere-an attempt at explaining the world, man, and society. This would make its discovery no less essential. Whatever role one wishes to assign myth in culture, one can no longer, since Griaule's work, ignore African myth or reduce it to insignificant fragments. That the Dogon have pre- served it better than others (though the Bambara and the Malinke also have complex systems, and the discoveries contin~e)~

and have incorporated into it elements from other cultures (and why not the Egyptian, which van Beek does not mention, when Egyptologists have shown a lively interest in the topic?) is all part of the classical history of cultures and does not constitute proof of its non-existence.

To conclude these overbrief comments (it would take a whole article to refute all the errors in this "restudy" point by point), I will point to some inaccuracies with regard to Griaule himself. He was by no means a "mu- seum anthropologist" but had simply been charged with bringing back collections of objects for the museum of the Trocadero at the time of the Dakar-Djibouti mis- sion; ethnography at that time was inconceivable with- out objects. He had no preconceived intention at the time of demonstrating that African cultures had philoso- phies comparable to those of the classic great civiliza- tions; this idea came to him only after his meeting with Ogotomm&li. On returning to the Dogon after the inter- ruption of the war, his intention was to carry out a few verifications and more detailed investigations of the data collected earlier with a view to being able afterward to devote his attention to other fields. It was the encoun- ter with OgotommCli that made him change his mind. Having been present in the field in 1946, I can formally attest that the anecdote so amusingly told in DE (about the boy coming to seek out Griaule on the part of an

2. With regard to the "word," research undertaken in the past ten years, especially by African researchers, shows the existence of entirely comparable conceptions in other cultures (see Calame- Griaule 1987:postface; cf. Sachnine 1987 on the superb origin myth of the Yoruba).


unknown "hunter") is absolutely authentic. I also wit- nessed (along with Germaine Dieterlen and Solange de Ganay) my father's returning from his interviews night after night with wonderful accounts of the discoveries of the day. As for his alleged training in astronomy, 1 can report that his training was in literature; he had no notion at all of astronomy, and it was the Dogon who first began telling him about the stars. If he later dis- played charts of the heavens, it was for his own use and not to instruct the Dogon. As for the satellite of Sirius, he was completely ignorant of its existence until the Dogon spoke to him of a "companion," at which point he consulted the astronomers of the Paris Observatory and found them as surprised as he was.

References Cited

CALAME-GRIAULE, GENEVIEVE. 1965 Ethnologie et langage:
La parole chez les Dogon. Paris: Gallimard.

-. 1986. Words and the Dogon world. Translated from the
French by D. Lapin. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of
Human Issues.

1987. Revised edition. Ethnologie et langage: La parole chez les Dogon. Paris: Institut dfEthnologie.

1980. Histoires d'enfants terribles (Afrique noire). With pref-
ace and conclusion by Genevike Calame-Griaule. Paris: Mai-
sonneuve and Larose.

GRIAULE, MARCEL. 1948 Dieu d'eau: Entretiens avec Ogotom- m&li.Paris: Editions du Chene.

GRIAULE, MARCEL, AND GERMAINE DIETERLEN. 1965 Le re- nard pile. Vol. I, fasc. I. Le mythe cosmogonique: La creation du monde. Travaux et Memoires de 1'Institut dJEthnologie.

SACHNINE, M. 1987. "Ifa sait la parole, l'histoire, les proverbes (Yoruba, Nigeria)," in Les voix de la parole, pp. 161-73. Jour-nal des Africanistes 57.

VAN BEEK, WALTER E. A. 1991. Dogon restudied: A field evalu- ation of the work of Marcel Griaule. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 32:139-58

On Paradigmatic Biases and Paleolithic Research Traditions


Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. 85287-2402, U.S.A. 4 VI 91

Otte and Keeley (CA 3 I : 577-82) argue that processual archaeology, in its desire to be scientific and generaliz- ing, is antihistorical to the extent that it ignores or dis- misses important historical processes-migration and diffusion-as potential agents of culture change. They also claim that processual archaeology has a teleological bias that is manifest in the attribution of a kind of inevi- tability to llprogress" in social evolution and that some- times leads to inappropriate value judgments about the sophistication of the archaeological research traditions of various nations and regions. We take issue with their construal of the nature of pattern in the Middle and Up-

Volume 32, Number 5, December 1991 1 577

per Paleolithic of western Eurasia and with the meta-

physical paradigm that appears to govern their approach.

Underlying Otte and Keeley's essay is the preconcep-

tion that prehistory is history projected back into the

preliterate past and that process in the remote past can

be treated as an extension of process in history. This

bias is characteristic of the paradigms that govern some

Continental research traditions (especially those of

France, Belgium, and Spain), but it is by no means uni-

versal in the Old World, and it contrasts shar~lv with


the preconceptions that underlie American research tra- ditions (cf., e.g., Binford and Sabloff 1982, Higgs and Jar- man 1975). Paradigms are assertions about the way the world is or the way the world (or some relevant portion of it) is perceived to be (Casti 1989). They exist at a number of conceptually distinct levels (e.g., metaphysi- cal, sociological, and methodological [Masterman 19701)~ and at the highest, most abstract level (the metaphysi- cal) they have no objective reality, are only with diffi- cultv amenable to scrutiny (let alone evaluation), are


typically unquestioned within research traditions, and consequently are seldom made explicit. Therefore, from one point of view one metaphysical paradigm is as good as another. However, because the assumptions underly- ing the metaphysical paradigm can determine the char- acter of lower-order paradigms (which in turn determine research protocols in any problem context), conflicts arise with respect to the nature of explanation and what kinds of explanations are regarded a priori as plausible. From an American anthropological perspective, there are maior vroblems with the contention that vrehistorv

, A

is an extension of history, and these have far-reaching

implications for Otte and Keeley's construal of pattern

and what it might mean.


Otte and Keeley treat prehistorian-defined analytical

units (e.g., Magdalenian, Mousterian, Chitelperronian)

own right, (3)the tangible remains of identity-conscious

social units of some kind (i.e., ethnic groups), (4) mono-

thetic sets of covarying types, and (5) the material ex-

pressions of temporally and spatially discrete boundaries

held to be congruent with group territorial boundaries

synchronically and with transgenerational "traditions"

diachronically. These are, however, assertions about pattern and the meaning of pattern, and in our view they are problematical.

The conventional culture-stratigraphic analytical units used by European prehistorians arose as an acci- dent of history in late-19th- and early-20th-century France with the work of pioneers like Gabriel de Mortil- let (e.g., 1883)~ Henri Breuil (e.g., 1907a, b, 1909, 1913)~ and Denis Peyrony (e.g., 1933, 1936). They have always been based almost exclusively on the (often rare) retouched-stone and worked-bone/antler tool compo- nents of these assemblages. They are strictly typological and can vary independently of the numerically over- whelming debitage components (often >95% of the

as if they were (I)objectively real, (2)meaningful in their

1989. "Stratigraphie du Wurm depuis 35,000 ans par la palynologie," in Quaternary type sections: Imagination or re- ality! Edited by J. Rose and C. Schliichter, pp. 91-92. Rotter- dam/Brookfield: Balkema.

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