“Ntomo” mask with four teeth - Bamana population, Mali

20th century
Tribal Art
From: 75008, Paris, France

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    “Ntomo” mask, Bamana population, Mali
    Four-toothed comb mask, wood covered with cowrie shells, old patina.
    Dimensions: H: 52 cm L: 14.5 cm

    The Ntomo mask is associated with an initiation ritual for young uncircumcised men in West African societies. This type of mask is identifiable thanks to its upper part in the shape of a comb of three to eight horns.
    We call Bamana the populations of Mali, North-Eastern Guinea and Northern Ivory Coast, sharing a common way of life and a similar language, the Mandingo language. The Bamana have a history dating back to the Empire of Ghana in the 3rd century, then to the Empire of Mali in the 13th century. We find other names for this population, such as Bambara, which was used in the 13th century to designate these peoples converted to Islam, Bamabara meaning “infidels”.

    The life of a man from this population is punctuated by codified stages. A young boy must undergo an initiatory and educational ritual led by a society to become a man. This initiatory society trains young people aged 6 to 13. Each promotion undergoes secret training for three to five years. The teachings concern metaphysical questions, self-control, the place of man, humility, respect. Other tests complement the teaching, such as providing food through alms, agricultural work, hunting and fishing. It was during the annual festival that the young people carried out physical flogging tests equipped with a whip and a Ntomo mask.

    These initiations were controlled by blacksmiths, the only ones who could make these sacred masks. Indeed, wood is renowned as a receptacle for nyama, a dangerous energy that only blacksmiths can control thanks to their knowledge.
    The making of the mask is ritual and subject to conditions. Before sculpting, the blacksmith communicates with a genius, the jinn, who tells him the location of the tree to be cut down, its shape and its essence. The blacksmith is subject to prohibitions such as abstinence, he must sculpt alone, far from the village. The masks, once sculpted, benefit from great spiritual force.
    In Bamana, Ntomo designates “jujube tree”, the tree on which the sacrifices were offered. Ntomadyiri, (the Ntomo tree) is considered the ancestor of blacksmiths and the creator of the Ntomo company, he would be the first to have carved a mask.

    Furthermore, the mask should not be considered as an individual object; it is associated with a costume, a whip and is part of a ritual. The mask resembles a horned, clawed being that cannot be defined, referring to stylized animals. The mouth is discreet, the nose prominent. The thin mouth, sometimes absent in the oldest masks, is associated with control of speech and actions, the preservation of secrets and strength in the face of pain.
    The number of horns is symbolic and rich in meaning, it indicates not the gender of the wearer who is a young boy, but the gender of the mask. Thus masks with three or six horns are masculine, with four or eight horns are feminine and with two, five or seven horns are androgynous. Our mask has four teeth, and is therefore associated with the feminine gender.
    According to Dominique Zhan, female gender masks reveal “the bodily nature of man, his femininity, passivity and suffering”.
    Another Bamana mask is presented for sale, it has seven teeth, associated with androgyny.

    Ref: 7SX18VALX7

    Condition Good
    Ethnic group Bamana
    Style Tribal Art (African Masks of Tribal Art Style)
    Period 20th century (African Masks 20th century)
    Country of origin Mali
    Width (cm) 14.5
    Height (cm) 52
    Materials Wood, Shell
    Shipping Time Ready to ship in 8-15 Business Days
    Location 75008, Paris, France
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