THE SEXTENNIAL CEREMONIES OF THE SIGUI AMONG THE DOGON
The lecture outlines the results of studies undertaken by the author on the sextennial ceremonial of the Sigui among the Dogon of Bandiagara which began in 1967. The Sigui ceremonials move across the country, being held annually over a period of eight years and taking place on each occasion in a different group of settlements. While this does not cover the whole of the territory occupied by the Dogon, it does relate to the entire population.
The Sigui rituals are held every sixty years, this interval being associated with (1) the revolution of the ‘companion’ of Sirius; (2) the ancient ‘Mandé’ system of numeration with a base of sixty; and (3) the placing of all persons of at least sixty years of age in a special category to mark the passage of one generation to another.
All men of the groups concerned participate in the Sigui which takes place in areas which have, and are associated with, masks that are related to funeral ceremonies. It involves considerable expenditures. Every participant has to provide himself with a complete costume and accessories, including cross-seats, carved calabashes, and leather bags, as well as clothing. He also has to contribute to the costs of preparing the ritual millet beer by gifts to those of more than sixty years of age, the preceding generation which participated in the last Sigui.
The Sigui is a very complex religious ceremonial of which the essential purpose is to commemorate two mythical events of the first importance; firstly, the revelation to men, through their mythical genitor, the Nommo, of the gift of speech and, secondly, the appearance of death in the human world. This commemoration calls for the symbolic presence of four original ancestors of humanity who received the gift of speech. Three of them are represented by notables (heads of lineages, totemic and other priests of cults). The fourth, who was the first to die following a grave breach of taboo, is represented by the Great Mask which is carved in each village at the time of its ceremonial.
The costumes of the participants assimilate them to androgynous fish, an image of the human foetus. The human being is conceived as a fish in its mother's womb. The participants are thus symbolically placed at the dawn of Man's life on the Earth.
The Great Mask is carved two months before the beginning of the ceremonies. Some young notables are selected in each village to protect the Great Mask during two months of retreat in the bush. There they receive special instructions, learning especially the ‘language of the Sigui’. They become responsible for the care of the Great Mask throughout their lives and in principle until a new mask is carved at the next Sigui ceremonial.
The ceremonies themselves include collective dances accompanied by various songs and recitations in the ‘language of the Sigui’, and also the communal drinking of the ritual beer which confers a new status on the participants.
The film, ‘The Cave of Bongo’ (35 mm. in colour), was presented with synchronic sound and commentaries by G. Dieterlen and J. Rouch and was made by J. Rouch in 1969 during a performance of the Sigui. It covered the whole of the first day of ceremonies celebrated by the people of four villages of Sanga du Bas (Bongo, Dyamini-Na, Dyamini-Kouradondo, and Gogoli). It includes the following sequences: the village of Bongo and preparations for the Sigui; the Cave of the Sigui; the lineage shrine; the ritual equipment (cross-seats, bull-roarers, and Great Masks); the costumes of the dancers; the drinking of the beer of the Sigui; the dances and the ending of the first day.
Je tiens à vous dire mon émotion d'avoir été désignée pour cette conférence, consacrée à la mémoire de Lord Lugard. Car je n'ai pas aujourd'hui l'intention de faire un exposé académique: en effet, je préfère vous apporter les premiers résultats d'une recherche ‘sur le terrain’ qui se situe dans un cadre assez exceptionnel, celui d'une cérémonie soixantenaire itinérante chez les Dogon du Mali. Je vous présenterai cette recherche dans l'état où elle se trouve actuellement, c'est-à-dire encore en cours d'enquête et d'examen; mon propos constitue une introduction aux films que vous allez voir, réalisés par notre collègue Jean Rouch, chaque année, depuis quatre ans, à l'occasion de ces cérémonies.
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