How the Dogon people in West Africa promote self-constraint in meetings

At the moment, I cannot say much more about the palaver huts of the Dogon than I already did in my presentation and paper for the symposium. And that is this:

Rules, procedures and customs that regulate human behavior during meetings mainly emerged in order to constrain participants to retain self-control, even when tensions and emotions were running high. A nice illustration can be found in the society of the Dogon people in the West African country Mali.

Dogon people are used to hold meetings in a Toguna, a palaver hut built with a very low roof, which forces participants to sit rather than stand. Togunas are used by the village elders to discuss problems of the community, but can also serve as a place for customary law. They are built on a 500 meter high cliff stretching about 150 kilometer(s) and therefore from a toguna one has a wide view of the landscape. The low roof of the togunas prevents visitors from standing up and fighting when emotions are running high. Disputes have to be resolved in verbal battles only. The wide panorama stimulates participants to keep far-sighted and focus on the future with an open mind.

Another example is the talking stick or speaker’s staff, used by many Indian tribes, especially the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. In a tribal council circle, a talking stick is passed around from member to member allowing only the person holding the stick to speak. This enables all those present at a council meeting to be heard, especially those who may be shy; consensus can force the stick to move along to assure that the ‘long winded’ do not dominate the discussion; and the person holding the stick may allow others to interject.

In the Dogon society as well as in the Indian tribes in the Northwest of the US elementary meeting rules are being embodied in the architecture of the Toguna and in the ceremony of the talking stick respectively. Toguna and stick are the visual representations or embodiment of the pressure which the community as a whole exercises upon individuals to control their emotions and impulses. These instruments represent ‘the social constraint towards self-constraint’ (expression from Norbert Elias).

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Thanks for sharing! I like the idea of keeping the ceiling low in case motions get high! Apart from the architecture, I think the whole notion of palaver is highly interesting and I hope eventually someone can eventually tell us more about it.

I found this picture of a toguna on wikipedia:

And people are even tweeting pictures of toguna: