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Bamana Kore mask

Bamana Kore mask
Bamana Kore maskBamana Kore maskBamana Kore maskBamana Kore mask
Tribe: Bamana
Country: Mali
Ritual: Initiation
Name: Kore
Materials: Wood, fabric, nails, rubber, paint
Provenance: Coll. Shiaro, Segou Region, Mali by Andrew Turley 2007
Comments: There are a number of paint layers on this small but dense mask with traces of silver, black, red and white. There are definite signs of use and a good patina inside and out leading me to date the piece circa 1960 - 1970

This is another version of the hyena mask used by the agricultural Kore society and is representative of the hyena which was the society's guardian animal. Usually the mask is characterized by a hemispherical forehead and a flat face with a long, angular, protruding nose. Some configurations of the typical Kore can be seen with its erect, pointed ears, the protruding, straight nose and extended mouth.

Like Kono, the mens association known as Kore seems to be disappearing in Bamana communities. Kore once sponsored a vibrant form of theatre, challenging immoral authority and hypocritical morality through the sexually explicit gestures and buffoonery of its masquerades. Dancers promoted common decency by mocking outrageous and irresponsible behaviour. Performances featured both puppets and masqueraders who wore wooden face masks in the shape of the lazy or wily animals they portrayed.

Kore's role in exposing human frailties, and in reinforcing the common values of society, is partially filled today in Mande-speaking regions by community age-grades. These associations, usually called Kamelon Ton, organize young men and women into groups by age, just as Ntomo or Tyi Wara once did. Yet they have no boliw, no alters allowing them to manipulate nyama. Their displays are open to all, and although individuals may enhance their performance skills with mystical substances and prayers, the festivities themselves have few religious overtones.

Researchers in the middle of the twentieth century wrote that a man would need to join five major Bamana associations (Ntomo, Tyi Wara, Komo, Kono and Nama) before being initiated into Kore. They believed that Kore masquerades represented the culmination of a man's education, and served as as the foundation of a "just society". Although this research cannot be verified today it does indicate that Kore masqueraders once played an important role in Bamana culture.


  1. Iris Hahner-Herzog, Maria Kecskesi, Laszlo Vajda, African Masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection, Prestel, New York. 1998:240
  2. A History of Art in Africa. Harry N. Abrams. 2001.
  3. African Sculpture Speaks. Ladislas Segy. 1975.
  4. Masks of Black Africa. Ladislas Segy. 1976.