Kolobi Sen is a description of the history of a celebration honoring the Fire Woman, a goddess credited with giving birth to the gods of the Bondu Dogon people. The elderly women of Kolobi began reciting this story to me through songs, the manner they pass on historical information to their daughters, ever since I lived with them in Peace Corps 1998 – 2001. Fascinating as the story was to me, my Dogon mothers and grandmothers swore me to secrecy.
Seven years later, in 2008 I returned as a graduate student in linguistics to Kolobi to fulfill my promise to the people of documenting their unwritten language since our most successful collaboration was a literacy program with the women.
The eldest woman in the village agreed to let me record the Kolobi Sen story, but because of the traditional and unusual vocabulary, I needed a lot of help to transcribe, gloss and translate it. In 2009, after a severe back injury, I fulfilled another goal of finishing this tattoo representation of the Fire Woman.
Upon viewing the Fire Woman tattoo for the first time in 2010 while working in Kolobi as a Fulbright scholar, the Dogon people, men and women alike, were brought to tears. “We have always known you to have tattoos [Fulani women in Mali tattoo so they know what they are], but never did we imagine you would get a Dogon one. This is far better than what we had hoped for, you marrying a Dogon man, because this symbol will be with you for your entire life, unlike a mortal man. For this reason, your tongue is Dogon and you are permitted and encouraged to share our secrets with the world.”