“‘Animals,’ he said, ‘are superior to men, because they belong to the bush and do not have to work. Many animals feed themselves on what man grows by painful toil.’
“He even went so far as to say that animals were more perfectly made than men, seeing that they lacked speech. It was an excellence in them to be without the power of speech” (Griaule 1965:126).
“‘When the eight ancestors,’ he said at last, ‘were born to the first pair, eight different animals were born in heaven’….
“‘Up to this time they had no connection with the earth. When the eight men appeared, each of them shared a soul with an animal; but the man remained on earth, while his animal associate remained in Heaven’….
“‘The animal,’ Ogotemmêli said finally, ‘is as it were, man’s twin'” (Griaule 1965:127)
Animal ties with humans can be found in many cultures across the world, and a new up-and-coming field of anthropology, called multi-species ethnography, explores human relations with animals. What I find interesting about the Dogon perception of animals, is that they are superior, whereas in many Western (mostly due to Christianity) cultures, animals are inferior. In both cases, speech seems to be the defining factor, but is evaluated differently.
Ogotemmêli goes on to explain how each of the eight families of the Dogon (ancestors of the original eight) is connected to a twin animal, born at the same time. Each animal, however, also has a ‘prohibited partner,’ another animal, that is also born at this time. Thus, each family has a totemic attachment to a wide range of animals.
“‘When I was born,’ said Ogotemmêli, in illustration of his argument, ‘an equine antelope was born too. The antelope’s prohibited animal is the panther. A panther was also born” (Griaule 1965:128).
If interested in learning more about human/animal interconnections, I suggest looking into multi-species ethnography. Try Kirksey and Helmreich (2010), Ogden and Tanita (2013), Haraway (2007), or Kohn (2007) (Kohn’s work is some of my favorite – it is a bit tricky to grasp at times, as it is highly philosophical, but his theories really resonate with me.
Griaule, M. 1965. Conversations with Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. Oxford, UK: Oxford University press.
Haraway, D. 2007. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press.
Kirksey, S.E. & Helmreich, S. 2010. The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 25(4), pp. 545-576.
Kohn, E. 2007. How Dogs Dream: Amazonian natures and the politics of transspecies engagement. American Ethnologist 34(1), pp. 3-24.
Ogden, L.A., Hall, B. & Tanita, K. 2013. Animals, Plants, People, and Things: A Review of Multispecies Ethnography. Environment and Society: Advancements in Research 4, pp. 5-34.