1967-to-1973 Sigui and the invention of speech and death (The)





Production year



Original material



The Sigui is a traveling ritual celebrated every sixty years for seven consecutive years in the different groups of Dogon villages on the Bandiagara cliff. It commemorates the revelation of the spoken word to men and the death and funeral of the first ancestor. French ethnologist Marcel Griaule was the first to collect first data on the progress of these celebrations in 1931.
- In 1966, the Hogon, a religious leader, announces the time of the Sigui for the following year.
- In 1967, in the village of Yougo, all men under sixty shave and dress in Sigui attire to celebrate the death of the first ancestor. They perform the dance of the serpent around Yougo's anvil and share the communal beer. On the third day, the Sigui leaves Yougo for its long journey.
- In February 1968, the men of the village of Tyogou respond to the drum call. They processed across the valley towards the old village to the rhythm of the serpent dance, then return to the public square of Tyogou. The cliff dancers dance the first ancestor's funeral around the fig tree and drink millet beer. In front of the cave containing the four old masks of the previous four Sigui, the new mask remains on the ground, unpainted.
— In 1969 in Banani, all the men and Olubaru of the four villages of Bongo gather to dance around the common field of lineage. They can behold the four large masks erected against the Sigui cave marking the rebirth of the common ancestor for another sixty years in the form of a serpent and with the rank of an immortal. In the evening, bullroarers are swung to replicate the ancestor's voice.
- In 1970, the elders of Amani begin the spiral of the word and then take to the paths of the mask and of speech through the village. Gathered in the square, men of all ranks of age listen to an elder chanting in Sigi so, the secret language of the Sigui. Worshippers respond with songs and clamours, thus preparing for the birth of new Nanous, the respondents of the cult of the dead. The Sigui was brought to the elders of Bango, the twin village of Amani, who receive speech from the elder of Amani.
- In 1971, in response to the spoken word coming from the cliff, all men in Idyeli bury themselves in small groups in the dune overlooking the village. At the sound of the Bullroarers, the whole dune comes alive as if giving birth to babies. The new generation of the Sigui walks down towards the spring and the village square in Sigui outfit, and the mask slowly becomes visible.
- In 1972, in Yamé the Sigui is celebrated with the whole community joining in. In women's clothes and tattoos, the men listen to an elder from Idyeli passing on the spoken word in Sigi so language. With Ama, the master of space, the Sigui goes from the east to the west and the procession enters Yamé towards the men's shelter, the West Toguna which marks the boundaries of the Sigui, to leave the cave-seats there. After the performance of songs and dances along the path, three Olubarus leave for the west.
- In 1973, a year of drought in Sahel, the ritual of drinking millet beer is not performed.
- In 1974, three friends of Jean Rouch revisit the journey of the three Olubarus towards Songo. After passing the rock of the blacksmith's descent, they visit the Songo canopy, whose wall is covered with drawings and paintings dedicated to the Sigui, and the overhang and grotto of the circumcision. The three men then chant and walk back towards the anvil of Yougo. Thus followed the three years of the cycle of death and the four years of the new cycle of life.

Scientific topics

CNRS Images,

Our work is guided by the way scientists question the world around them and we translate their research into images to help people to understand the world better and to awaken their curiosity and wonderment.