Five Baga Objects of African Tribal Art

On 10/09/14 a small African Tribal art auction featuring property from the Rona family collection took place in Boonton NJ. The prices of the African Art sold varied from approximately $100 – $7,000 and included pieces “purchased in the 1970’s from respected galleries such as Segy, Klejman, and Tribal Arts; including published pieces from Ladislas Segy’s Masks of Black Africa”, (MilleaBros catalog, 2014). This effectively provided buyers with more than the usual “provenance halo”, typically associated with pieces purchased at major auction houses.

While one may take any number of positives from the event (beauty, breath, quality, depth, provenance) the pieces from the Baga tribes (Bansonyi, Tonkongba, Nimba, A Tshol) brought a much greater appreciation for what I had previously considered as a less attractive, and less abstract masking tradition.

BANSONYI [1]

The Baga people, approx. 60,000 in total, occupy the northern coast of Guinea and the southern coast of Guinea-Bissau. Bansonyi is the man’s secret society that unites autonomous villages of the Baga people. Its emblem is a polychrome headpiece, called Bansonyi that is carved in the form of a python standing upright. It embodies the snake-spirit a-Mantsho-na-Tshol (“master of medicine”). Among most Baga subgroups, only adolescent males learn the secrets of the snake-spirit during the initiation, which marks the passage to adult status.

Bansonyi

E1 Bansonyi – Rona Collection


Bansonyi lives in the sacred forest and emerges when it is time to begin the boys’ coming-of-age rites. Bansonyi is believed to be the strongest adversary of sorcery and destructive forces that could endanger the well-being of the village. It is especially protective of the boys during their initiation into adult society. Bansonyi also appear at the funeral celebrations of the most important members of the community.

E1 Rona Family Collections Auction, (Price realized $2,250)

BANDA [2]

The character represented in this mask, Banda (also called Kumbaruba by some Baga groups), is a complex composite of human and animal forms. The long horizontal headdress is composed of the face of a human being and the jaw of a crocodile, whose angular teeth are visible along the side of the mask. The human face is characterized by Baga scarification marks as well as a woman’s elaborately braided coiffure. The top of the headdress features the horns of an antelope, the body of a serpent, and the tail of a chameleon. Banda headdresses are quite large; this example measures just over four feet in length. Yet despite their unwieldy size, the mask is manipulated with astonishing dexterity and dynamism during performances.

E2 Banda Mask

E2 Banda Mask

Today, the Banda headdress is danced only for entertainment, although historical documentation suggests that it originally carried an extremely sacred significance. It seems that Banda represented a high and powerful spiritual being that would appear only to privileged society elders. During that period, Banda was used in rituals designed to protect against dangers such as animal attacks or even human malevolence, especially around the time of important male initiation rites. In contemporary Baga society, the Banda performer, invariably a young man, carries the wooden headdress on top of his head. Attached to the underside of the headdress is a large raffia cape that covers the dancer’s face and extends to his knees. The performance takes place in a circular arena formed by the crowd and is accompanied by drummers playing on giant wooden slit gongs. The choreography of the dance invokes the movements of various animals, including soaring birds, foot-stamping bulls, and undulating serpents. In the greatest spectacle of the performance, the dancer goes into a dizzying spin holding the headdress aloft, then twirling it in a series of figure eights and plunging it to the ground, finally returning the headdress to his head, all without missing a beat.
[2] http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/310750
E2 http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/310750

NIMBA [3]

The most important of the Baga art forms is the great mask, D’mba or Nimba.

E3 Nimba - Baga tribe (Baga Nimba)

E3 Nimba – Baga tribe (Baga Nimba)

It represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women, and presides over all agricultural ceremonies. The dancer, wearing a full raffia costume, carries the mask on his shoulders, looking out through holes between the breasts. In use, such masks rise more than eight feet above the ground; they often weigh more than eighty pounds. Most show a standardized pattern of facial scarification.

E4 Dancing the Nimba

E4 Dancing the Nimba

” Nimba is the joy of living; it is the promise of abundant harvest”
The Baga Nimba, or D’mba, represents the abstraction of an ideal of the female role in society. The Nimba is essentailly viewed as the vision of woman at her zenith of power, beauty, and affective presence; rather than a goddess or spirit. The typical Nimba form illustrates a woman that has been fertile, given birth to several children, and nurtured them to adulthood.
[3] http://www.randafricanart.com/Baga_Nimba.html
E3 http://matricien.org/geo-hist-matriarcat/afrique/baga/
E4 http://matricien.org/geo-hist-matriarcat/afrique/baga/

TONKONGBA [4], [5]

The Tonkongba headdress can be seen as a three-part form, including a helmet in the center, a long snout protruding from the front, and, a pair of flat horns usually connected at their tips. It is not known much about the use of these headdresses. Knowledge concerning the Tonkongba’s function is complicated by a number of factors, including the extreme secrecy enveloping the sculpture and the probability that it was used in different ways by different groups. No doubt, it served both as a shrine figure and as a dance headdress. According to some sources, the Tonkongba appeared on any special occasion when a sacrifice was involved, for example, at a funeral. It danced at sunrise. When Tonkongba came out, the people would hang tobacco leaves and fowl on its costume as tribute. [4]

E5 Tonkongba Headdress

E5 Tonkongba Headdress


These masks were formerly attributed to the Landuman, but are now known to come from the northern Baga. This is an important cult mask, representing a stylized Atlantic dolphin. The “melon” and beak can be plainly made out, (some have a definitive dorsal fin), flippers and tail. This marine mammal was regarded as sacred by the Baga. According to Bacquart, “the mask …is usually kept in front of a clan’s shrine. It is sometimes worn by dancers during ceremonies involving sacrifices — for instance, funerals. Tonkongba is alleged to be omniscient, thus has the power to know and promulgate both good and bad news”. [5]

[4] http://www.zyama.com/Collection/pics%20A-C.htm
[5] http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/very-rare-landuman-baga-tonkongba-dolphin

E5 http://www.zyama.com/Collection/pics%20A-C.htm

A-TSHOL [6]

A-Tshol  - Baga Tribe

E6 A-Tshol – Baga Tribe

Oral history suggests that the A-tshol (Elëk, ma-Tshol) shrine figures combining bird and human attributes date back to the ancient origins of the Baga and Nalu peoples. Such figures were the most revered objects on shrines dedicated to the protection of a clan. Their name, translated into the various languages of coastal Guinea where these figures were found, means medicine, and on shrines they stood alongside other protective medicines invested with supernatural power. On important occasions, such figures could also be danced on the head of a male clan member.

[6] http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/109828
E6 Art Institute of Chicago, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/109828

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African Tribes, Demographics, & The Slave Trade Map

Information on African Tribes – Demographics, Politics, Religion, History, Economy, Tribal Art, Neighboring Tribes, Culture, Language.

Aka Akan Akuapem Akye Anyi Aowin
Asante Babanki Baga Bali Bamana Bamileke
Bamum Bangubangu Bangwa Baule Beembe Bembe
Benin Kingdom Berber (Amazigh) Bete Bidyogo Biombo Bobo
Bushoong Bwa Cameroon Grasslands Chokwe Dan Dengese
Diomande Djenn� Dogon Ejagham Eket Ekoi
Esie Fang Fante Fon Frafra Fulani
Guro Hausa Hemba Holoholo Ibibio Idoma
Igala Igbira Igbo Igbo Ukwu Ijo Kabre
Karagwe Kassena Katana Kom Kongo Kota
Kuba Kurumba Kusu Kwahu Kwele Kwere
Laka Lega Lobi Luba Luchazi Luluwa
Lunda Luvale Lwalwa Maasai Makonde Mambila
Mangbetu Manja Marka Mbole Mende Mitsogo
Mossi Mumuye Namji (Dowayo) Ngbaka Nkanu Nok
Nuna Nunuma (Gurunsi) Ogoni Oron Owo Pende
Pokot Punu Salampasu San Sapi Senufo
Shambaa Shona Songo Songye Suku Swahili
Tabwa Tuareg Urhobo We Winiama Wodaabe
Wolof Woyo Wum Yaka Yaure Yombe
Yoruba Zaramo Zulu

 

Destinations of Slaves and their Origins

PROJECTED EXPORTS OF THAT PORTION OF THE FRENCH AND ENGLISH SLAVE TRADE HAVING IDENTIFIABLE REGION OF COAST ORIGIN IN AFRICA, 1711-1810. [1]
 
Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia) * 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast) * 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana) * 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria) * 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) * 25.1%
Central and Southeast Africa (Cameroon-N. Angola) * 24.7%
SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba, Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor
 
SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.
 
WINDWARD COAST (including Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa, Grebo.
 
GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong
 
BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA combined: Yoruba, Nupe, Benin, Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Lbibio, Ljaw, Lbani, Lgbo (Calabar)
 
CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu, BaNdulunda
 
Other possible groups that maybe should be included as a “Ancestral group” of African Americans:
 
Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa, Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.

References

[1] http://wysinger.homestead.com/mapofafricadiaspora.html

Hercules, Damascus, St. Paul, and the Baga N’mba

Prehaps the least utilized asset of man is his imagination. The ability to think beyond the box and connect the dots in ways not solely dependent on his own physical means. The myth of Hercules reinforces the concept that even if faced with seemingly impossible odds one may use ingenuity, skill, and luck to fashion a solution.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no Hercules, but in acquiring a Baga N’mba  I feel as lucky as Hercules did in collecting the apples of the Hesperides.[1]

 

Baga D'mba (Nimba) Mask - My big baby :0)

The most important of the Baga art forms is the great mask, D’mba  or Nimba.

It represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women, and presides over all agricultural ceremonies. The dancer, wearing a full raffia costume, carries the mask on his shoulders, looking out through holes between the breasts. In use, such masks rise more than eight feet above the ground; they often weigh more than eighty pounds. Most show a standardized pattern of facial scarification.

” Nimba is the joy of living; it is the promise of abundant harvest”

The Baga Nimba, or D’mba, represents the abstraction of an ideal of the female role in society. The Nimba is essentailly viewed as the vision of woman at her zenith of power, beauty, and affective presence; rather than a goddess or spirit. The typical Nimba form illustrates a woman that has been fertile, given birth to several children, and nurtured them to adulthood.[2]

Baga D'mba - The Tribal Arts of Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, p22

 

But the highlight of the trip to Damascus, (ok Boston) , came when I realized that the starter on the car’s engine had conked out on me. Fortunately I drive a standard shift Jetta (most women prefer automatic) so kick-starting the car is always an option.  As luck would have it a very nice couple id’d my predicament and were quick to render assistance. What was really funny was that the guy’s wife had been involved in a major car wreck that morning…. passenger side totally smashed in… yet they were able to put aside their troubles (and coffee), to help out a total stranger…. all the while listening to me droning that they really needed to be in church thanking God that no one died in the accident.  To say that I was grateful is an understatement, (I actually have Geico roadside assistance – go figure), and this is where I guess I had my St. Paul moment… I didn’t get knocked off a donkey by lightning, or go blind for three days, or fast this weekend…. it was more in the “revelatory nature”[3] of things.  This simple act of kindness totally restored my faith in humanity. Then in pushing the envelope, one can also tie in the redemption aspect of the Hercules myth…. but that would be another story for another day :0)

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