Ritual Vessel: Horse with Figures (Aduno Koro)

Date: 16th–19th century

Geography: Mali

Culture: Dogon peoples

Medium: Wood

Dimensions: H. 20 1/2 x L.93 x D. 18 1/2 in. (52.1 x 236.2 x 47 cm)

Classification: Wood-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.255


This monumental vessel, which is over seven feet long, was kept in the house of a lineage head in a Dogon community. It was used during an annual ritual known as goru to hold the meat of sheep and goats sacrificed at an altar dedicated to Amma the Creator and the family ancestors. Performed at the time of the winter solstice, the ceremony represents the culmination of rituals that celebrate the all-important millet harvest, whose abundance will support the family in the coming year.

Such works have been described as aduno koro, an "ark of the world" meant to represent the mythic ark sent by Amma to reorganize and populate the world. The aduno koro displays a wealth of imagery relating to the Dogon account of genesis. Holding the eight original human ancestors and everything they needed for life on earth, the ark was guided by Nommo, the primordial being who created order within the universe. When the ark settled on the ground, Nommo transformed himself into a horse and transported the eight ancestors across the earth to water, where the ark floated like a boat.

In this example, the horse's head is fitted with a bridle, representing Nommo's transformation into equine form, while the eight original ancestors are portrayed in two groups of four on the side of the vessel. The lizardlike creature separating the ancestors represents ayo geu, a black crocodile who killed Nommo after he completed his task of guiding the ark.