Western science has long held the belief that traditional knowledge was of no value. Oral histories and the truths hidden in myth and legend were nothing but fairy tales.
This belief has been challenged time and time again as science explores further into our history. Evidence has been found for super-floods that match up with the common myth of a great flood. These floods seem to be separate events, but they are also quite common in the Earth's history. Floods happen.
One shining example of Western science pish-poshing a “primitive” culture's knowledge and being “proven wrong”, is with the Dogon.
Marcel Griaule & Germaine Dieterlen
In 1933, French anthropologist, Marcel Griaule made his first contact with the Dogon. He quickly became obsessed with their fascinating culture, and throughout his career he published over 170 books and articles on anthropology. Many of these texts were focused on the Dogon.
Griaule and his student, Germaine Dieterlen, spent several years researching the Dogon of Mali. By 1938, Griaule had collected enough research to publish his doctorate on the Dogon people.
Marcel Griaule broke new ground in the field of anthropology with his use of aerial surveying and photography. Working with Dieterlen also influenced the way in which teamwork would be implemented in anthropological studies in the future.
Dieterlen and Griaule published their research into the Dogon people's unique understanding of astronomy. They had knowledge of things that could not be seen with the naked eye. For their trouble, Griaule and Dieterlen were heavily criticized by their peers.
Ogotemmeli the Hogon
Marcel Griaule spent a significant portion of his time with the Dogon elder named Ogotemmeli. It is from Ogotemmeli that Griaule got most of his knowledge about Dogon myths.
Ogotemmeli was a Hogon of his people. The Hogon of the Dogon acts as a spiritual leader. Their role is similar to a shaman or priest in other cultures. Preserving the oral tradition and presiding over rituals of marriage and death are among their duties.
Hogon go through an initiation period where bathing and shaving are prohibited. They are also always men. So once the old man is smelly and unkempt enough, they take a vow of celibacy and don a red hat. From then on, no person is to touch the Hogon.
Ogotemmeli was blinded as a child in a hunting accident. He received his calling to the spiritual path in a vision before the accident, but he chose to ignore it. Anyone who knows about traditional African religion would tell you that refusing the spiritual calling is a bad idea.
The gun Ogotemmeli was using exploded in his face, and destroyed his sight. He soon accepted his fate and took to the spiritual path.
In 1933, Griaule made contact with Ogotemmeli. He spent 33 days in conversation with the Hogon. From these dialogues came much of what Griaule would later publish about Dogon faith and astronomy.
What's the Fuss About?
The Dogon claim to have a unique link to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. This star is called Sigi Tolo in the Dogon language. Sigi Tolo has two companion stars, Pō Tolo and ęmmę ya Tolo.
Ogotemmeli told Griaule that Pō Tolo orbits around Sigi Tolo (Sirius A), and that one orbit takes 50 years. Griaule, a learned man of science, knew that the blind man spoke the truth.
Sirius A was first proposed to be a binary star system in 1844 by German astronomer, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel. He observed that Sirius was wibbly-wobbly, and as such had to be doing the tango with another star.
Bessel's theory was proven correct when in 1862 by American astronomer, Alvan Clark. The poorly named Clark built his own telescopes, and eventually built one powerful enough to actually see the companion star. Sirius A's companion has the incredibly creative name of Sirius B. Sirius B does in fact take 50 years to orbit Sirius A. Take that, science.
Griaule and Dieterlen were flabbergasted by Ogotemmeli's knowledge of Sirius B. They attributed his knowledge to the ancient teachings of his people. How else could this Hogon possibly know about something that was discovered by Western scientists 70 years earlier?
Griaule and Dieterlen wrote this to preface their recording of the Dogon's star knowledge:
“The problem of knowing how, with no instruments at their disposal, men could know the movements and certain characteristics of virtually invisible stars has not been settled, nor even posed.”
The possibility exists that Ogotemmeli could have heard about the discovery of Sirius B, and its orbit.
Wise Ogotemmeli also told Griaule of the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. Saturn's rings were discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei. Jupiter's moons were also discovered by, you guessed it, Galileo in 1610. So, Ogotemmeli was relaying something discovered 300 years ago.
Could it be possible for Ogotemmeli to have heard of these discoveries? Yes.
Dogon Mythology and New Age Beliefs
Ancient Alien theorists and other new age belief systems often regard the Dogon as a people blessed by watchful guardian aliens. Their knowledge of the stars is so impossible, that they could only have been gifted it by aliens.
The Nommo protected Amma's daughter from her brother, and in so doing won the sky god's favor. Unfortunately for the Nommo, they were forced to split into four sets of twins. Their powers were diminished, and they became mortal. After countless ages, the Nommo became the Dogon.
According to Ogotemmeli and Griaule, the Nommo were actually a people who lived on a planet orbiting the binary star system, Sirius. They claim that the Nommo came to the Earth in a vessel, and taught the Dogon about the astronomy of the Sirius system.