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Lecture | Seminar

ASC Seminar: A Dogon prophet and the UNESCO cultural heritage of Mali

  • Wouter van Beek
Thursday 11 May 2017
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

A Dogon prophet and the UNESCO cultural heritage of Mali

In the Dogon funeral, a cycle of funeral songs called the baja ni is performed, in a mesmerising night of singing. The songs are attributed to Abirè, a blind singer/prophet of old, who roamed the cliff area of the Dogon in the second half of the nineteenth century, leaving a huge legacy of funeral chants. This ‘Homer of the cliff’ also made prophecies at each village he visited, predicting what would happen in that particular place in the future. Together, prophecies and baja ni form a crucial heritage of the Dogon area.

Though the Dogon have been the focus of ethnographical attention for a long time already, this baja ni has never been recorded or published until now. Van Beek’s research on Abirè and his legacy started in 1980, with several complete recordings, the last one in 2005. It was finally completed in 2016. The text of the baja ni offers an unexpected window onto Dogon culture, offering a philosophy of life and death that is as moving as it is unexpected.


Jan Jansen, Cultural Anthropology, Leiden University

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