Amma is the supreme creator god of the Dogon religion, whose efforts initiated the formation of the universe, the creation of matter, and the processes of biological reproduction. The notion of a creator god named Amma or Amen is one that is not unique to the Dogon, but can also be found in the religious tradition of other West African and North African groups. It may be reflected in the word Amazigb, a name that is applied collectively to the hunter cultural groups who preceded the first dynasty in Egypt.
Like other important Dogon cosmological keywords, the word Amma carries with it more than one level of meaning in the Dogon language. From one perspective, it can refer to the bidden god of the Dogon, and yet, from another perspective, it can mean “to grasp, to hold firm, or to establish.” Among the Dogon, Amma is thought of as the god who holds the world firmly between her or his two hands, and to speak the name Amma is to entreat her or him to continue to hold it.
Similar meanings can also be found in association with the word Amma or Amen in the languages of the Mande and the Yoruba, among the sub-Saharan people who were roughly contemporaneous with ancient Egypt, as well in the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages. In his Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Sir E. A. Wallis Budge documents word entries with both of these meanings under the pronunciation Amen, although the more recent and academically preferred Altaegyptiscbe Worterbuch defines the Egyptian bidden god under the pronunciation of Imn, a word that is also found in the Ethiopian language.
Although commonly referred to as male, Amma is considered to symbolize both the male and female principles and, as a result, is more properly characterized as genderless or as being of dual gender. This dual aspect of Amma's character is consistent with the broader cosmological principles of duality and the pairing of opposites that are expressed symbolically in all facets of Dogon religion and culture. It is also consistent with the male and female aspects of biological reproduction that Amma symbolizes.
The Dogon religion is characterized as an esoteric tradition, one that involves both public and private aspects. Although Amma could be said to embody great creative potential, she or he is in fact considered by the knowledgeable Dogon priests to be small—so small as to be effectively hidden from view—although this detail of Amma's character is generally not spoken of in public among the Dogon. This perceived small-ness of Amma is consonant with the instrumental role that she or he is said to play in the mythological processes of the formation of matter and of biological reproduction.
Perhaps the first important creation of the Dogon god Amma was the unformed universe, a body that is said to have held all of the potential seeds or signs of future existence. The Dogon refer to this body as Amma's Egg and characterize it as a conical, somewhat quadrangular structure with a rounded point, filled with unrealized potentiality—its corners prefigure the four future cardinal points of the universe to come. According to Dogon myth, some undefined impulse caused this egg to open, allowing it to release a whirlwind that spun silently and scattered its contents in all directions, ultimately forming all of the spiraling galaxies of stars and planets. The Dogon compare these bodies to pellets of clay flung out into space. It is by a somewhat more complicated process that the sun and the moon were formed, one that the Dogon equate with the art of pottery. Consequently, the Dogon priests compare the sun to a pot of clay that has been raised to a high heat.
Amma is also credited by the Dogon with having created life on Earth. According to the Dogon myths, there is a principle of twin births in the universe. However, it is said that Amma's first attempt at intercourse with the Earth failed, ultimately producing only a single creature—the jackal. This failure is seen by the Dogon as a breach of order in the universe, and therefore the jackal came to be associated with the concepts of disorder and the difficulties of Amma. Later, having overcome the difficulty, Amma's divine seed successfully entered and fertilized the womb of the Earth and eventually produced the perfect twin pair, the Nummo.
It has been noted by respected researchers of Dogon myth—such as historian Nicolas Grimal in his A History of Ancient Egypt—that there are likely symbolic parallels between key Dogon mythological characters and those of ancient Egypt. For instance, it can be argued that Amma is a likely counterpart to the Egyptian hidden god, Amen, much as attributes of the jackal of the Dogon myths present clear parallels to the jackal god of the Egyptian Underworld. Likewise, comparisons can be made between the Egyptian canid god Sab who acts as judge between good and evil and the Pale Fox (vulpes pallida) of Dogon tradition who is charged with the similar role of judging between of truth and error.
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