TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

BAGA

Today, the Baga people, 45,000 in total, occupy the northern coast of Guinea and the southern coast of Guinea-Bissau. They live in the marshy area flooded six months of the year, during which time the only way to get around is by a dugout canoe. They live in villages divided into two to four quarters, which are in turn divided into five or six clans. Traditionally, the village is headed by the eldest member of each clan. The men fish and grow cola nuts; the women grow rice. Spiritually, they believe in a single god, known as Kanu, assisted by a male and female spirits. The only fundamental ritual is initiation, which takes place every twenty-four years.

Baga had rich traditions of multifunctional masks and sculpture, many of which were suppressed with the advent of Islam. The best known of these is the massive Nimba (or Dumba) mask, with its great cantilevered large nose, crested head supported on the upper part of a female torso, carved so as to rest on the shoulders of the wearer, his body hidden in raffia fiber. The mask can also stand on four legs. Sterile women in the Simo secret society invoked it as the Mother of Fertility, and it was used at the first-fruit (rice) rituals, symbolically associating female fertility with the increase of the grain. This mask appears at the harvest and threshing of the rice crop, is worn by dancers at birth, marriages and other joyful ceremonies. The Baga also produced statues on round columns, called tambaane, tsakala, or kelefa: extremely large head, compressed on both sides, in angular, stylized construction; jutting nose; arms without hands, or hands resting under the chin. They were kept in round huts by the Simo society.

The Simo society utilized very large polychrome masks (often more than 5 feet tall), known as banda or boke which are used in fertility rituals by this society, played a part during the dry season, after the rice harvest, and at funerals. It has an elongated human face with the jaws of a crocodile, the horns of an antelope, the body of a serpent and the tail of a chameleon.

Baga craftsmen also carve anok, or elek, bird heads with human features that were used at harvest time and funerary rites, also by the members of the Simo society. Baga snake headdresses, representing the spirit A-antsho-nga-tshol, can be up to 260 cm high and typically display undulation, polychrome decoration and sometimes have eyes inset with glass. They were held on the shoulders of a dancer with the help of a light framework and appeared in local ceremonies. There are also other masks combining human and animal features. Tall drums supported by a human figure are also carved.

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