IndexAfricaMali → Dogons






Calame-Griaule (1986:p359)[1] noted a reverse circumcision license in the Dogons (Mali):


“During early childhood, the engaged children play together. They know nothing of the bond which unites them; moreover, society looks upon them as “fish”, beings of no social consequence. Small children do sometimes play sexual games; they are beaten for it if they are caught, but very little attention is actually paid to the misdemeanor. It is after circumcision and excision that the children, who will thereafter wear loincloths covering their sexual parts, must cease these diversions”.


Another significant idea on puberty is noted when “the only case in which the young girl has the right, indeed the obligation, to lose her virginity to a man other than her fiancé [[2]] is if her fiancé is absent at the time when she passes into sexual maturity. This is so that her first menstrual period will not precede the breaking of the hymen. […]. The husband has no right to complain of the situation, since he brought it about by allowing himself to be absent at the critical moment” (p363-4)[3]. As the author points out, “[t]he Dogon express the idea of sexual maturity in two ways: [...] “he who knows speech” and [...] “he who knows shame”. Mastery of speech and decent behaviour are prerequisites to marriage according to Dogon rules. This is why the child’s acquisition of language, particularly that of the little girl, is supervised so carefully”.


On the instruction of girls, the following is noted:


“Women and girls spinning cotton will whisper tales to one another about men or masks and secrets they have come upon unexpectedly. This is why it is especially important for men not to hear. A mother, again while spinning or perhaps cooking, will teach her daughter what she must know about marriage and sexual relations. Here, too, are private matters that should not be overheard; A little girl learns everything from her mother. From the time she can walk she follows her everywhere. First she receives a practical education about housekeeping and women’s farming. At the approach of puberty and marriage this is followed by more secret information concerning female physiology, marriage, and childbearing. The name given to this education is “hidden speech” […] or “speech of the bedroom” […]. The father does not involve himself in any way in her upbringing. Later, when she goes to the “house of the old woman”, the girl receives another education called “outside speech” […], which concentrates on the proper behavior she must show her husband and in-laws. The old woman also offers practical advice about the initial period of marriage, but she does not bring up such subjects as menstruation or personal hygiene except with her own daughter’s daughter”.


Parin et al. (1963:p46)[4]:


“Mothers are not concerned about the sexual parts of their children and do not prevent them from playing with these. One often sees a boy holding his sexual part in his hand. This offends no one. When children among themselves carry on all kinds of sexual play openly, adults will tell them that this is not done in public. Between children of the same age or a little older, talk about sex will be quite open; in front of adults it is considered unseemly. It is not regarded as fitting for children to be present when parents are having sexual intercourse, because they would be disturbing. However, nothing is concealed. Children six or seven years old know all about sex[5] and will answer without embarrassment if they are asked about it. When they grow older they will know that one should talk about it only with one’s age group, and they will be somewhat more self-conscious”.


“Sexual intercourse is tried out even in childhood. People say that this really does not matter because, of course, there can be no offspring” (p34). About the sexual identity of circumcision (p52-3):


“Among the Dogon, circumcision means the end of childhood. Yet it is only one of the steps that must be taken to achieve the dignity of the adult. For their entrance into social and religious life the Dogon seem to place more stress on the health and physical development of the young than do other peoples. Here, further circumstances decrease the importance of circumcision: Most children return to their parents’ house after the ceremony and will not move to the boys’ or girls’ house until a few years later. Here they will only sleep and will return to their parents’ house for meals. The sexual importance of the initiation is lessened by the fact that boys and girls are circumcised a few years before sexual maturity, that even before, children already play sexually with one another, and that sexual activity is taken seriously only when it can lead to propagation”.


Although reserved for initiated adolescents, “boys and girls sleep in their respective duñe very often before having been initiated. […] It is likewise to be noted that though initiation marks the moment when the adolescent is able to carry on sexual relations with a young partner of the opposite sex, one very often finds young boys not yet circumcised who have not waited for this time to carry on sexual relations with young girls not yet excised themselves” (Palau Martí, 1957)[6].











Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Calame-Griaule, G. (1986) Words and the Dogon World. Translated from the French by Deirdre LaPin. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues

[2] “The girls are often promised in marriage from the day of their birth”. See also Griaule, M. (1938) Dogon Games. Paris: Institut d’Ethnologie, p125n

[3] Defloration should occur before menarche; “”[i]n fact, no blood at all is to issue from her body before that of the deflowering”. “If through lack of watchfulness becomes mature before marriage, nothing is said about it to the boy’s family because it is believed that this would cause the death of the couple’s first child. This is why careful watch is kept on the formation of the breasts and the first signs of sexual maturity in the young girl”.

[4] Parin, P., Morgenthaler, F. & Parin-Matthey, G. (1963) The Whites Think Too Much. Zurich: Atlantis Verlag

[5] See also Paulme, D. (1940) Social Organization of the Dogon (French Sudan). Paris: Éditions Domat-Montchrestien, F. Loviton et Cie, p439-40: “There is no subject of conversation among adults which the presence of children puts a stop to approaching freely; no one would dream of controlling his language upon seeing at his side a little boy or little girl whom he might regard as too young to listen to certain information. Thus the children very early acquire precise sexual knowledge — boys and girls of six or eight seem perfectly familiar with these questions — without their ever having been given any enlightenment in this matter. The children asked about this subject all replied “that they have always known this”.

[6] Palau Martí, M. (1957) The Dogon. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France