National Geographic : 1969 Mar
two loads of firewood to the mother of the girl. Later he will bring a basket full of millet with 80 tiny cowries on top. More gifts will follow, and when the last are given, the couple is con sidered married." The Dogon have no formal marriage cere mony, and not until a couple's second child is born will the wife go to live with her husband permanently. Divorce is easy for women as well as for men, and a man may take more than one wife if he can afford to. Diangouno's mention of the cowries sur prised me. Centuries ago such shells, from islands in the Indian Ocean (see pages 420-21), crossed the Sahara with camel caravans to become West Africa's most common currency. Under colonialism, francs and shillings largely replaced the shells. But in isolated Sanga as late as 1940 a measure of millet, which today costs five Malian francs (one cent), sold for 80 cowries. Thus, the symbolic marriage gift of 80 shells once had economic meaning. "Sold" Into Slavery for a Shell I asked Diangouno whether there were any other surviving uses of the cowrie shell, and he told me the story of his name. "Diangouno means 'slave of the leather worker.' " When I looked puzzled, he continued. "I was my mother's tenth child, but all before me had died. She feared that all the children she bore were doomed to die young. So, before I was born, mother 'sold' me to the leatherworker for a single cowrie shell. "Throughout my childhood I never worked a day for the leatherworker. I lived with my mother, who raised me carefully. When I was fully grown, we went together to the leather worker to thank him for his protection and to return the cowrie shell that had fooled fate. But even today I am called the 'slave of the leatherworker.'" Children's names are usually chosen by the oldest, and therefore wisest, man in the area, the hogon. Confined to the village by tradition, Kire, hogon of Yenndouma, received visitors in the narrow entrance to his compound. When men came with problems, Kire would chase away the curious women and children, tuck his tiny frame into a recess in the pas sageway, and listen. Often as not, he reached into the lizard skin bag that was always at his side and pulled out a few polished stones, a bead or two, perhaps some cowries. With this simple equipment and the skill learned from his father, Kire could choose a newborn's name, 440 predict the future, or diagnose a disease. He was as well known for his treatments as for his powers of prediction, but he balked when I asked him to share his wisdom of the barks and leaves and herbs. "Tell you my medicine? Then no one would come to me! Everyone knows the trees of the plateau and the bushes of the plain, but they don't know my medicine. If I show you this, how will I eat?" In former times, an assistant to the hogon sounded a ram's horn on the eve of market day. Now the people need no reminder. Each fifth day the market comes to Yenndouma. Women of the Fulani tribe, the old enemy of the Dogon, come from the plains to sell milk. Enterprising young men walk the 85 miles from Mopti with razor blades and matches, sugar and store-bought cloth. They return with onions and strips of the homespun cotton that the Dogon men weave.