TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

BAMBARA (BAMANA) (also see related Marka)

The Bambara numbering 2,500.000 million form the largest ethnic group within Mali. The triangle of the Bambara region, divided in two parts by the Niger River, constitutes the greater part of the western and southern Mali of today. The dry savanna permits no more than a subsistence economy, and the soil produces, with some difficulty, corn, millet, sorghum, rice, and beans. Their traditions include six male societies, each with its own type of mask. Initiation for men lasts for seven years and ends with their symbolic death and their rebirth.

The ntomo society is for young boys before circumcision. There are two main style groups of their masks. One is characterized by an oval face with four to ten horns in a row on top like a comb, often covered with cowries or dried red berries. The other type has a ridged nose, a protruding mouth, a superstructure of vertical horns, in the middle of which or in front of which is a standing figure or an animal.

The komo is the custodian of tradition and is concerned with all aspects of community life -- agriculture, judicial processes, and passage rites. Its masks are of elongated animal form decorated with actual horns of antelope, quills of porcupine, bird skulls, and other objects. Their headdress, worn horizontally, consists of an animal, covered with mud, with open jaw; often horns and feathers are attached. Masks of the kono, which enforces civic morality, are also elongated and encrusted with sacrificial material. The kono masks were also used in agricultural rituals, mostly to petition for a good harvest. They usually represent an animal head with very long open snout and long ears standing in a V from the head, often covered with mud.

The tji wara (chi wara) society members use a headdress representing, in the form of an antelope, the mythical being who taught men how to farm. The word tji means “work” and wara means “animal,” thus “working animal.” There are male and female antelopes with vertical or horizontal direction of the horns. The dancers appeared in pairs (a man and a woman – an association with fertility) holding two sticks in their hands, their leaps imitating the jumps of the antelopes.

The kore, representing the highest level concerned with the sky and with the bringing of rain to make the crops grow, employs masks representing the hyena, lion, monkey, antelope, and horse. In addition there are masks of the nama, which protect against sorcerers.

The size of the statue may vary from 12 inches to 4 feet. The figures are usually standing or sitting females with a dignified air, some holding a child. Some have the arms separated from the body, flat palms facing forward, the hands sometimes attached to the thighs. They may have crest-like hairdos with several braids falling on their breasts. In the same style, representations of musicians and of lance-carrying warriors are found. There are also carvings with Janus head. Ancestor figures of the Bambara clearly derive from the same artistic tradition as do many of those of the Dogon. Rectangular intersection of flat planes is a stylistic feature common to Bambara and Dogon sculpture.

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