In the Dogon funeral proceedings, a major song cycle called baja ni is performed in a session of at least seven hours. The texts of the chants are attributed to a legendary figure called Abirɛ, who as a blind singer in the nineteenth century roamed the heartland of the Dogon. The baja ni songs have escaped scholarly attention thus far. Singing with the Dogon Prophet by Walter E.A. van Beek, Oumarou S. Ongoiba, and Atimε D. Saye provides their first publication in English as well as an analysis of these songs. These texts deal with the relations between man and woman, man’s ambivalent dependency on the otherworld, and with life and death; the whole night performance is one of the high points of the funeral. Additionally, Abirɛ is a prophet, and during his life has uttered a great number of prophecies on a wide range of topics, from local issues to the relation of the Dogon with the Fulbe herdsmen, and from the arrival of the colonials to ecological transformation. This book examines how these prophecies with these songs offer an inside view of the way the Dogon construct the present in a continuous dialogue with their past and their projected future.
Walter E.A. van Beek is emeritus professor of anthropology of religion at Tilburg University and senior researcher at the African Studies Centre Leiden.
Oumarou S. Ongoiba is a linguist and professor of French for the Toronto District School Board.
Atimè D. Saye is a translator of Dogon and French and head of an extended family in Tireli, Mali.
List of Figures
Chapter 1: Singing through the night
Chapter 2: A Dogon heritage
Chapter 3: The blind singer
Chapter 4: The baja ni in Dogon culture
Chapter 5: The songs
Chapter 6: Prophecies
Appendix 1: The singers
Appendix 2: Villages with information on Abirε
Appendix 3: List of Jamsay and Toro so terms
"This fine book does two things. First, it takes us deeply into the philosophical underpinnings of Dogon mortuary rituals. Second, by covering the sequence of songs performed in a single long night as experienced by the lead author, enhanced by excellent photos and drawings, it gives the reader a feeling of having been physically present there. This duality is rare in academic writing. The many comparisons between Dogon and Abrahamic religion make the book as accessible to a general Judeo-Christian readership as to anthropologists."
"At a time when Dogon country is going through dark hours and people are forced to reject ancestral cultures in favor of a totalitarian religious thought, the work of Walter van Beek, Oumarou Ongoiba, and Atimè Saye brings us a breath of fresh air. This archival document records and analyzes the chants of the baja ni performed during funeral ceremonies and also evokes the philosophical subtlety and wealth of the Dogon people. The reader will find in this work of great scientific and heritage value the opportunity to dream of the return of peace and wisdom at the foot of the Bandiagara Cliff."
"Our interest in these funeral songs and prophecies of a Dogon musician and visionary is drawn initially to the transcription and elucidation of the verses, but greater profundity yet lies in the passages and allusions which confront us with the ultimately unfathomable. In its hesitations and openness to further interpretation, this text offers an intimate and compelling portrait. No outsider, however long their engagement, could confidently make such an analysis unaided, and this collaborative achievement would be a model for future work, if only copying it were not so demanding."