#2 The Souls of the Dogons
     (Solange de Ganay, 1937-39)

With men, this force [the nyama] depends on the kikinu sae, or the soul. Whereas the soul is individual and pursues its extra-human destiny after death, the nyama is the impersonal element, which, after separating itself from the body upon death, goes to another being (ordinarily a newborn) which it normally imbues. However, if it is a matter of a violent death, this migration provokes disorders which the living combat with the appropriate rites.

However, this rule does present some exceptions. Tile souls of certain deceased are essentially condemned to wander in the bush; they become evil beings, or dyabu, whose vital force cannot be perpetuated in a nani respondent. This involves either young people who have died as virgins or adults who have died in such a way that the relatives decide that the funeral rites, which would permit the soul of the deceased to consume the libations offered on the ancestral altars, should not be carried out. The soul is thus left to wander and cannot impart its dangerous nyama to a newborn. A dwarf, a suicide, or an epileptic, whose maladies are feared for being passed on to a nani respondent or even a family member, are part of this category of the excluded….

The souls of certain adults, who die in unusual circumstances, are condemned to wander eternally in the bush where they become a dangerous power, or dyabu. This invo1ves, among others, those whom the society intends to keep out by preventing the reincarnation of their nyama in one or more of its members; consequently, none of the customary rites which follow the funerals are executed, and the soul — which is not called to consume from the family altar — is thus excluded from the community.

Men who fall asleep in the proximity of stones called dummo kumogu, which bear a dangerous nyama, contract an illness, or dummo suga (lit: “stone falls”), hence their name of dummo sugone, “one who falls like a stone. When a man affected by this illness dies, there is neither a funeral nor a Dama, so that he will not have a nani (respondent) and that his soul will not be able to transfer the harmful nyama to any members of the family.

The same custom was once observed for a suicide. The dyabus are compared to the “bad wind” or to the “whirling wind” (onu simu). It is said that they “strike the men” and give them smallpox. Since these wandering souls are essentially dangerous because they are unsatisfied and incapable of joining the other souls in Manga, the society must protect itself against their harmful acts. The Dogon have built altars on which they offer sacrifices which are intended to protect them from the attacks of the dyabus. They also make use of amulets.

[#2] Dogon: “Suicide as Contagious: The Risk of Nyama,” from Solange de Ganay, Dogon Mottoes, HRAF; some footnotes interpolated; selection title and commentary from Germaine Dieterlen, The Souls of the Dogons, tr. Sherri L. Granka, HRAF (Paris 1941; New Haven, CT: 2000).

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