Dogon and Sirius – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com – Temple lists a number of astronomical beliefs held by the Dogon that seem curious. They have a traditional belief in a heliocentric system and in elliptical orbits of astronomical phenomena. They seem to have knowledge of the satellites of Jupiter and rings of Saturn, among other things. Where did they get this knowledge, he asks, if not from extraterrestrial visitors? They don’t have telescopes or other scientific equipment, so how could they get this knowledge? Temple’s answer is that they got this information from amphibious aliens from outer space.
Afrocentrists, on the other hand, claimed that the Dogon could see Sirius B without the need of a telescope because of their special eyesight due to quantities of melanin (Welsing, F. C. 1987. “Lecture 1st Melanin Conference, San Francisco, September 16-17, 1987”). There is, of course, no evidence for this special eyesight, nor for other equally implausible notions such as the claim that the Dogon got their knowledge from black Egyptians who had telescopes.
a terrestrial source?
Carl Sagan agreed with Temple that the Dogon could not have acquired their knowledge without contact with an advanced technological civilization. Sagan suggests, however, that that civilization was terrestrial rather than extraterrestrial. Perhaps the source was Temple himself and his loose speculations on what he learned from Griaule, who based his account on an interview with one person, Ambara, and an interpreter.
According to Sagan, western Africa has had many visitors from technological societies located on planet earth. The Dogon have a traditional interest in the sky and astronomical phenomena. If a European had visited the Dogon in the 1920’s and 1930’s, conversation would likely have turned to astronomical matters, including Sirius, the brightest star in the sky and the center of Dogon mythology. Furthermore, there had been a good amount of discussion of Sirius in the scientific press in the ’20s so that by the time Griaule arrived, the Dogon may have had a grounding in 20th century technological matters brought to them by visitors from other parts of earth and transmitted in conversation.
Philip Coppens // Dogon shame – To recapitulate: Griaule claimed to have been initiated into the secret mysteries of the male Dogon, during which they allegedly told him of Sirius (sigu tolo in their language) and its two invisible companions. In the 1930s, when their research was carried out, Sirius B was known to have existed, even though it was only photographed in 1970. It was very unlikely that the Dogon had learned of this star’s existence from Westerners prior to the visit by Griaule and Dieterlen.
Griaule and Dieterlen first described their findings in an article published in French in 1950, but they included no comment about how extraordinary the Dogon knowledge of the ‘invisible companions’ was. This step was taken by others, particularly Temple, in the Sixties and Seventies. To quote Ancient Mysteries: “While Temple, following Griaule, assumes that to polo is the invisible star Sirius B, the Dogon themselves, as reported by Griaule, say something quite different.” To quote the Dogon: “When Digitaria (to polo) is close to Sirius, the latter becomes brighter; when it is at its most distant from Sirius, Digitaria gives off a twinkling effect, suggesting several stars to the observer.” This description of a very visible effect causes James and Thorpe to wonder – as anyone reading this should do – whether to polo is therefore an ordinary star near Sirius, not an invisible companion, as Griaule and Temple suggest.
The biggest challenge to Griaule, however, came from anthropologist Walter Van Beek. He points out that Griaule and Dieterlen stand alone in their claims about the Dogon secret knowledge. No other anthropologist supports their opinions. In 1991, Van Beek led a team of anthropologists to Mali and declared that they found absolutely no trace of the detailed Sirius lore reported by the French anthropologists. James and Thorpe understate the problem when they say “this is very worrying.” Griaule claimed that about 15 per cent of the Dogon tribe possessed this secret knowledge, but Van Beek could find no trace of it in the decade he spent with the Dogon. Van Beek actually spoke to some of Griaule’s original informants; he noted that “though they do speak about sigu tolo [interpreted by Griaule as their name for Sirius itself], they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some, it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule.” Van Beek states that this creates a major problem for Griaule’s claims.
Although he was an anthropologist, Griaule was keenly interested in astronomy and had studied it in Paris. As James and Thorpe point out, he took star maps along with him on his field trips as a way of prompting his informants to divulge their knowledge of the stars. Griaule himself was aware of the discovery of Sirius B and in the 1920s – before he visited the Dogon – there were also unconfirmed sightings of Sirius C.
The Dogon were well aware of the brightest star in the sky but, as Van Beek learned, they do not call it sigu tolo, as Griaule claimed, but dana tolo. To quote James and Thorpe: “As for Sirius B, only Griaule’s informants had ever heard of it.” Was Griaule told by his informants what he wanted to believe; did he misinterpret the Dogon responses to his questions? Either way, the original purity of the Dogon-Sirius story is itself a myth as it is highly likely that Griaule contaminated their knowledge with his own.