The Dogon call this monumental receptacle, carved from a single block of wood, the adun koro, or “ark of the world.” The flat-bottomed, rectangular box with a hollowed-out interior is used during annual harvest rituals to hold offerings to the spiritual world. This type of vessel has been interpreted by art historians as a representation of the mythic ark central to Dogon accounts of genesis.
According to some accounts, the Creator Amma sent the mythic ark down from heaven to populate the world. Inside the vessel were the eight original ancestors equipped with everything essential to life on earth. The ark was guided from heaven by Nommo, a primordial being who was transformed into a horse upon the ark’s landing. The horse’s head and tail, sculpted on the ends of this vessel, suggest Nommo’s role as leader and subsequent earthly transformation. The eight original ancestors may be depicted here as a series of stylized squatting figures, carved in relief on the side of the container. They are represented in two groups of four, separated by a schematic animal, possibly a lizard.
The Dogon live in remote villages, sheltered by the steep cliffs that stretch 125 miles parallel to the Niger River. The environment is particularly harsh, and Dogon farmers struggle to provide food for their families in this dry terrain. A successful harvest is therefore a time of celebration and the giving of thanks.
Each year during winter solstice, after the millet is reaped, lineages (extended families) participate in a ritual known as goru. The word goru is defined as humidity, richness, and abundance, all of which are seen by the Dogon as blessings from the spiritual world. In order to show gratitude to the ancestors and to Amma the Creator, the head of a lineage offers pieces of goat and sheep meat as sacrifices to the family altar. These offerings are dramatically presented in the adun koro, the monumental container that evokes the mythic “ark of the world.”
© 2006 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (by permission)