African designs, £9.99
Height: 56.000 cm
Gift of Mrs W. Plass
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Carved wooden mask
Bamana, probably early 20th century
From Mali, West Africa
The traditional religious, social and political institutions of the Bamana are based on male initiation societies called jow. This particular mask belongs to the N'tomo, one of the six main jow. The N'tomo is organized into five year long grades through which boys must pass before their circumcision. The main principles of communal farming, judging disputes and protection against evil spirits are taught, as well as physical courage.
N'tomo masks are said to be the most ancient. They appear as a human face with four to ten projections which, regardless of their actual number, are said to represent the eight primordial seeds made by God to create the universe. The specific number of spikes or horns indicates whether the mask is masculine, feminine or androgynous: in Bamana numerology, multiples of three indicate masculinity, four and eight indicate femininity and two, five and seven are associated with androgyny. Thus, this mask is feminine.
H.M. Cole (ed.), I am not myself: the art of ma, Los Angeles monograph series, no. 26 (Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1985)