Toma Wooden Ceremonial Staff

SKU PF.3907
Circa

20th Century

Dimensions

69.75″ (177.2cm) high

Medium

Wood

Origin

Northern Liberia

Gallery Location

S Korea


 

Even in the context of impressive tribal regalia, this staff is truly exceptional. It was made by the Toma people of Guinea and Liberia, and constitutes a plain central section surmounted by an anthropomorphic/monkey figure, and bordered inferiorly with a stepped ring then four horned masks (in the traditional Toma design) and a ring of horns (?). There are further rings and geometric designs below this, tapering to a narrow point. The anthropomorphic figure is exceptionally well carved, with a glowering shelf-like brow over a face with no features except for the nose, thus lending a powerful sculptural impact. This is heightened by the squat, powerful, naked body, and the hands resting on the hips. Where present, the quality of the detailing is superb (notably the masks). Patination is dark, uneven and beautifully glossy.

The Toma are comparatively understudied, and live in Liberia (where they are called the Loma) and Guinea. Their society is based upon the Poro, which acts as judge, trial and executioner, as well as supervising ritual growth of age classes from circumcision through to adulthood, and to their place in the resulting gerontocracy. Their art reflects their social structure, with the often outsized Landai mask being used to ritually eat Poro members at the end of their initiation period. Figures are less common. Like most African societies, they also manufacture regalia to assert the ruling class’s authority over their subjects, if which this is a truly remarkable example.

This is a powerful and imposing piece of African art, and a worthy addition to any serious collection.

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