This impressive staff was made by the Dogon people of Mali. It is an unusual rendering, with a series of standing female figures standing in a column with their backs to the staff. The Dogon origin of the piece is indicated by the elongated faces and cubist rendering. The body of the staff is plain, patinated with an extensive use gloss.
The Dogon have been described as the most studied and least understood tribal group in Africa. They have a long, continuous history, with exceptional cultural diversity. They moved to this area in the 15th century to escape Mande and Islamic slavers, displacing a number of local tribes (including the Tellem and Niongom). They are excessively prolific in terms of artistic production; masks/figures in stone, iron, bronze/copper and of course wood are all known, in addition to cave/rock painting and adaptation of more modern materials.
There are around seventy-eight different mask forms still in production (and numerous extinct variants), with applications ranging from circumcision to initiation and funeral rites (damas). There are also masks and figures that are directed towards regard for twins, snakes, ancestors, nommo, hogons (holy men); even secular items are decorated with beneficial iconographic designs including headrests, granary doors/locks, house-posts and troughs. The scale of the population and the size of the area in which they live have resulted in considerable artistic diversity in terms of styles. Pieces such as this were invariably used as markers of status, especially given the fact that it is made from wood.