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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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African tribes>West Africa>Guinea-Coast
Baga shoulder mask-quai-Branly
Bulunit Baga sculpture
19th century
Nimba shoulder mask
Wood, brass
Collected by Henri Labouret, 1932
On deposit from the Muséum d'histoire naturelle de Toulouse in the Museum du Quai Branly, Paris France 

The Baga, 15th- or 16th-century migrants from the Sudan now occupying the coastal region of Guinea, carve anok, or elek, bird heads with human features styled in a manner resembling western Sudanic work. They had rich traditions of mask and figure sculpture, many of which were suppressed with the advent of Islam. 


The best known of these is the massive dumba mask, with its great cantilevered head supported on the upper part of a female torso, carved so as to rest on the shoulders of the wearer, who sees out through a hole between the breasts, his body hidden in raffia fibre. This mask appears at the harvest and threshing of the rice crop. Tall drums supported by a human figure are also carved.


On the Guinea coast between Conakry and Rio Componi, groups of Baga rice-farmers are installed. The Baga originated from the centre of Guinea, from which they were chased in the 18th century by the islamised Peuls. Baga society is marked by a strong gerontocracy. Next to the family heads, are found the authorities of the village, the masters of religion and the guardians of tradition, exercising their functions in associations or age-fraternities. This mask recalls the characteristics of a woman-nurse. Of impressive size, weight and style, with its large bust from which a head emerges, it evokes a spirit assuring growth, fertility and fecundity. It is brought out at crucial moments in the agrarian cycle, protects pregnant women, fights against sterility, attends marriages, and guides the deceased towards the world of ancestors. Under the bust, the carrier, enveloped in raffia and black cloth, looks through the holes pierced between the breasts. Considered by the Baga as a fine spectacle, large drums beaten by about forty men give rhythm to the dance.


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The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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