The Dogon are a cliff dwelling people who live in Southeastern Mali and Burkina Faso. Among the people groups in Africa they are unique in that they have kept and continued to develop their own culture even in the midst of Islamic invasions that have conquered and adapted many of the current people groups.
Dogon artwork is well known for its masks, which are used in various ceremonies and rituals. The masks are known as inima, and are believed to contain the life force that is known as nyama. There are over 65 different kinds of masks used for ceremonies. Also famous is the Dogon woodwork, which is known for the different primitive looks that are popular throughout African art. The Dogon use mainly red, black, and white colors as well as many varieties of browns developed from the reddish sand-like dirt which surrounds the country. Dogon artwork is all intricately hand carved and has much cultural significance.
Until the 1930s the Dogon were very insulated from the outside world and resisted any foreign influence. Through oral tradition it is said that they originated from the west bank of the Niger River, around 1490 A.D. They were fleeing from the Mossi people and entered the Bandiagara cliffs region. There they have lived ever since. Because of their refuge in the cliffs they were able to resist the Muslims, the French, and others who have attempted to conquer them.
The Dogon are divided into family groups that are responsible for different spheres of Dogon life. The Awa society is responsible for much of the spiritual functions of Dogon culture concerning death and mourning periods; they communicate with the ancestor spirits. The Lebe are the group responsible for the agricultural spirits. They build many different alters out of clay and dirt.