Wood, metal, hair, fabric, pigments
Until 1892 the Bamana were part of a large Mande state that was ultimately subdued by the French. The Bamana are still the largest coherent group in Mali. Bamana villagers now are subsistence farmers in dry country; traditional beliefs focus on ancestors, fertility and nature spirits. A significant proportion of the Bamana are now Muslim.
In traditional Bamana culture boys pass through the "Ntomo" initiation society and are then free to join one of five men's societies. The "Kore" society, to which the present mask belongs, is an agricultural society and the best studied of the five. After a period of instruction, the "Kore" society holds group initiations and celebrations every seven years. New members dance, wearing animal masks and costumes, miming the characteristic actions of the animals they represent. The present mask, named "Soula" or "Sulaw," represents a colobus monkey. The wearer scurries around the feet of the other dancers. It is thought that the animals represent human connections to nature; when masks and costumes of animals are worn by the "Kore" initiates, they indicate the separation from animal nature and rebirth as human beings achieved by the initiates.
A colobus monkey mask is identified by its round cranium and small, rounded ears set high on the head. It also may have small eyes under a large brow and a long, thin nose. The jaw is usually elongated. Animal hair held in place by a strip of metal nailed onto the mask shades the eyes of the present mask and perhaps emphasizes its animal nature. A strip of fabric is also neatly tacked over the face, adding texture.
The Robert V. Berg Collection
Height: 12 ½ inches
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