Accepted paper:

Memory sits in places, or the underneath of masks: sacred places, healing shrines and cultural memory in a forgotten corner of Dogon plateau


Roberto Beneduce (University of Turin)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores a Dogon therapeutic ritual in order to investigate the role of metaphors in the healing process and the the value of ritual space, its shrines and local spirits as a peculiar kind of “mythical-historical consciousness”: a lieu de mémoire able to interrogate the present and its uncertainties

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological literature explored over the last 80 years almost all aspects of Dogon life (the symbolic role of masks, the circumcision ritual, the changes accelerated by massive ethnological and touristic presence). Nevertheless, some areas of the Dogon plateau remain little known or almost unknown. In these forgotten recesses, a strong religious tradition continues its own life, and many shrines and sacred spaces (rocks, hills, etc.), in some cases simple ruins existing side-by-side the mosques, represent for many people an enduring symbol of continuity with past traditions, where local spirits work to restore health or to solve family conflicts. Based on a study conducted over the last ten years in Wadouba (Dogon plateau), this paper explores the practice of one of the most active healers in this region, and people's ability to reinvent their links with these spaces. More particularly, the author examines the semantic structure of a long chant performed during a therapeutic ritual. Its metaphors work as a ritual memory able to evoke divination practices, local spirits and traditional remedies, as well as the new threats, the moral crisis of traditional hierarchies, and the land conflicts that oppose two groups (the Yalcouye and the Kansay). This research has two main purposes: first, to investigate the relationship between metaphors and therapeutic effectiveness of this thick, imaginative ritual and, second, to explore the role of these sacred spaces as a peculiar kind of "mythical-historical consciousness," a site of cultural memory reproduction able to call into question the present and its uncertainties.

panel P121
Spirit of place