In 1946, the French ethnologist Marcel Griaule met an old blind hunter among the Dogon in Mali, whom he subsequently treated as the principal expositor of Dogon culture. Central to Griaule’s ethnographic modus operandi was a hermeneutics of suspicion fueled by more than a pinch of racism. In 1939, he had written to Paul Valéry complaining that the Dogon were toying with him when they told of their oral tradition: “Well, my negro friends! You thought you’d had me with your myth of the turtle! But . . . ” (Fonds Paul Valéry). By the time he met Ogotemmelli the hunter, Griaule was allegorizing the anthropological encounter as a strategic operation, an “inquest” starring an ethnographer as the “examining magistrate” dealing with an “informant” who is the “guilty party” and who is joined by his “accomplices . . . the...

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