The Dogon once believed that death did not exist, believing instead that immortal humans lived as serpents. However due to mankind breaking a religious restriction, people developed limited life-spans and eventually died. The first Dogon ancestor to die transformed into a serpent before metamorphosing into his permanent spiritual form. This change into the spirit form (nyama – 'soul and vital force of the ancestor') brought about negative influences to the community. As such, the villagers carved a wara mask (also called dannu; the 'Great Mask' or 'Mother of Masks') in the belief that the mask would hold the nyama of the deceased ancestor. As the wara mask is believed to hold the spirit of the first deceased ancestor, it is used during the Sigi ceremony, held once every 60 years, commemorating the transformational process of the first ancestor.
Dogon men that take part in Sigi ceremony dances and processions hold dolaba staffs in their left hands. Dolaba staffs are also sat on while participants drink beer during the three week long ceremony. It is believed that the nyama vital force of ancestors is also contained in the staffs, and that holding or sitting on staffs transfers the force and its energy into the male participants.
When the staffs are not in use, they are stored in the home of its owner. Upon the death of the owner, the dolaba staff is stored in a rock shelter outside of the village (signifying the departure of the man's soul outside of the village).