19th Century AD to 20th Century AD
10.75″ (27.3cm) high x 5.75″ (14.6cm) wide
Within the homogenous structure of the Bambara, many associations exist. These organizations, both for men and women, are crucial to maintaining a cohesive structure in each village. They offer religious instruction, serve as a moral guide and provide political unity; most often expressed through important events such as initiation ceremonies. The Komo for instance, welcomes all male adolescents after their circumcision and arranges dance ceremonies using their own distinctive masks for weddings and inaugurations.
These occasions were of such importance even their announcement was something of an event. This is where such objects as this lovely missionary mask were used. The person who wore it was someone of importance, and his appearance was greatly anticipated. The mask served as a vehicle of dramatic effect, elevating the level of excitement by depersonalizing the wearer, as if he were no longer merely human but embodied supernatural qualities. This connected the real world with the realm of ancestors and spirits, thus including the deceased in an important ceremony of the present. It was therefore crucial that such a mask be exceptionally beautiful.
In this mask, we are immediately impressed by the gentle curve of the face, accented by scarification on the sides extending from ears to below the chin. The hairstyle is particularly delightful with striated bands around the forehead, crowned by a scroll-like extension that adds dimension and height. An object that retains such power need not be in its place of origin to stir our imaginations. Through it we are transported to another time and place where a great event is announced, heralding a new beginning, while still retaining the glories of the past.