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Bamana Ntomo mask

Bamana Ntomo mask
Bamana Ntomo maskBamana Ntomo maskBamana Ntomo maskBamana Ntomo mask
Tribe: Bamana
Country: Mali
Ritual: Age Grade
Name: Ntomo
Materials: Wood, nails, cowrie shells, abrucus seeds
Provenance: Coll. Bakarijana Village, Segou Region, Mali by Andrew Turley 2007
Comments: In discussions with the Deputy Director of the National Museum in Bamako, he indicated that he agreed with my opinion that this mask was genuine, had good age and showed significant signs of use. Based on wear to the mask, superstructure and the erosion to cowrie shells and abrus precatorius seeds, its age is estimated at circa 1950.

Among the Bamana, all males receive social and religious instruction. This is accomplished in six stages, each of which increasingly reveals more knowledge about man and the universe. The ultimate goal of the instruction is to free a man from from his wanzo, that is "an inner blindness of the human mind in all that regards self-knowledge, but refers also to the physical malformations, impurity and evil in general".

The first stage is Ntomo. Uncircumcised pre-teen boys spend five years in Ntomo, advancing through five levels of instruction. During the fifth year the boys are circumcised, thereby removing from them the female characteristic (foreskin) with which all men are born. This done a young man can search for his female social partner.

Each stage of instruction has a mask emblem. There are two main styles of Ntomo mask. One is characterized by an oval face with four to ten horns in a row on top like a comb. Often the whole mask and the horn are covered with cowries or dried red berries. The other has a strong, angular ridged nose and a protruding mouth, a superstructure of vertical horns, in the middle of which is standing figure or animal.

The mask shown here is the emblem of Ntomo and, inclusive of the standing figure, represents the primordial man in his uncircumcised, androgynous state. The horns of the mask, the number of which varies from two to eight, are intended to "reveal the inner life of the human being".

Prior to the middle of the twentieth century, the training conducted by Ntomo was completed when the age-grade entered Tyi Wara. Tyi Wara prepared them for their future roles as husbands and fathers by pairing them with younger girls who become their partners. It also focused upon the agricultural skills they needed to become successful farmers who could provide for their families and contribute to the community.


  1. African Art in the Cycle of Life. Roy Sieber and Roslyn Adele Walker. National Museum of African Art 1988.
  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.