Dogon religion is defined primarily through the worshiping of the ancestors. The Awa society is responsible for carrying out the rituals, which allow the deceased to leave the world of the living and enter the world of the dead. Public rites include funerary rites (Bago Bundo) and the Dama ceremony marks the end of the mourning period. All of these rites involve masking traditions and are carried out only by initiated males who have learned the techniques needed to impersonate the supernatural spirits.
Wooden figures, representing both male and female ancestors, are made by specialist carvers who are members of the endogamous smith caste. The figures are "protective spirits," used as the foci of both family and village sacrifices. Upon the death of a relative, the figure is removed from the ancestral shrine and placed next to the corpse for a short period to absorb a portion of the Nyama, or spiritual force, of the deceased. The figure is then returned to the shrine, where sacrifices may be made on or near it to secure health, fecundity and an abundant harvest. The figure serves as a line of communication between the living and the spirits of their ancestors, including the founding ancestor of the clan.
The distinctive posture of this figure, with its raised arms as if praying or saluting, is related to the earlier Tellum style that heavily influenced Dogon art. Other stylistic features, such as the arrow-shaped nose, and the parallel planes of the breasts and thighs are characteristic of the "classical" Dogon figure style. This ancestral figure stands triumphantly on an altar ready to be placed in a public or private household shrine. Overall, this sculpture originally possessed a potent spiritual energy that had the ability to influence and affect the daily life of the deceased’s descendents.