ASCL awarded funding for new research project: Digitizing Dogon heritage

This project aims at digitally recording and safeguarding part of the immaterial cultural heritage of the Dogon in Mali, the baja ni, a major song cycle that forms an integral part of the funeral complex. ASCL researcher Wouter van Beek, who has been studying baja ni performances since 1980, has collected many hours of recordings, and has recently prepared a manuscript text which, together with the recordings, will serve as the starting point for this project. Due to Islamization and Christianisation, traditional funerals are becoming rarer, and the transmission of the baja ni is in peril. The current jihadist troubles present an immediate and even violent threat to this heritage. The songs are attributed to a blind Dogon poet/prophet, Abirè, probably from the 19th century, who also delivered a string of prophecies on the area.

Research goals

The aim of the project is first to widen the empirical knowledge on the prophetic song cycle, and to further analyse and contextualise the performances. Second, the recordings will be digitalized in such a way that they become accessible to the Dogon themselves, set in a digital framework which contextualizes the songs inside their material setting. A third goal is to initiate processes and institutions that may keep the heritage alive, independent of traditional funerals.


Research activities on the ground will be done by Dogon researchers, guided by the consortium which consists of the African Studies Centre Leiden, University College London and Institut des mondes africaines in Paris. Project partners in Mali are the National Museum in Bamako, the UNESCO office in Mali and Ginna Dogon, the association that represents the Dogon in cultural matters.

The full title of the project is 'DigiDogon: Digitizing Dogon heritage. The legacy of Abirè, the Dogon prophet'. It is one of eight transnational research projects in the JPI Cultural Heritage programme.