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Bamana Ntomo Mask - Detail

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Bamana, Mali Africa
Item: 7217
Availability: 1

Beautiful, older mask which shows many years of use and repeated application of newer materials. This mask is one of the best used, oldest pieces I've had an opportunity to find, especially from the Bamana. It was collected in 2002 in Mali, West Africa, and is obviously an authentic used piece.

Measures 24" tall with stand, mask is 20" tall, 8" wide and 5" deep. Comes with custom wrought-iron stand.

While contemporary styles of this mask range in price from under $100 to just over $300, this is a truly exceptional, old, well-worn piece. Its beauty and patina cannot be appreciated in photographs. An excellent mask with wonderful presence.

The mirror, shells and white metal on the nose have been added more recently, but this piece shows excellent age and use; easily mid 20th century. The metal on the sides is truly old and this piece has several repairs.

The Bamana Ntomo masks were worn by boys as they passed through the early cycle of initiation into manhood. The masks reinforce the lessons the
boys are taught as they are prepared by elder males in the society for 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 ntomo masks with thin mouths underscore the virtue of silence and the importance of controlling one’s speech. During their time in ntomo the boys learn to accept discipline. They do not yet have access to the secret knowledge related to korč and other initiation societies. Members wore a wooden face
mask during the initiation festival at harvest time and when begging for rice.

One reference sites the number of horns on such masks to symbolizes a human being's levels of increased knowledge based on the initiation stages, while another reference sites that Ntomo masks with an even number of horns are female and those with an odd number of horns are male. Some
masks are plain wood with no decoration while others are covered in brass reprouse, cowrie shells or small red seeds with further esoteric significance and the masks will vary greatly by region.

The wearer of these masks will usually be seen walking through the village and entering the family compounds to announce a ritual or a puppet
masquerade. The village association comprises female and male divisions and is organized according to age groups (flan-bolow). One enters the ton after circumcision and leaves it at the age of about thirty-five. Every year the ton organizes a festival (called Checko) of theatrical performances in the village square. These include koteba and the puppets known as sogo bo in a succession of light-hearted sketches that satirize aspects of Bamana social and religious life.

Prior to the public performances, ton members parade through the village streets accompanying masks such as Ngon and Ntomo. Sogobaw (translating as big beasts) resemble small, mobile theaters with a head and a wood-frame body. Small puppets, expertly manipulated, emerge from the back of this “beast”.

Additional detailed photos & information available upon request.

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