TITLE: Bamana N’tomo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
ETHNICITY: Bamana (Bambara)
DESCRIPTION: N’tomo Society Mask
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control; Status
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: brass sheet; nails; cowrie shells; dyed string
The Bamana people, sometimes called Bambara, are one of the largest ethnic groups in Mali. They have six major secret societies of different levels of prestige that conduct adult initiation rituals. Initiates are taught survival skills, social customs, and religious principles. The N’tomo Society originally comprised only uncircumcised boys and teaches the virtues of silence and discipline. For this reason, the N’tomo Society masks tend to have small, closed mouths.
Many Bamana masks also have brass plating, like this one. Blacksmithing and metallurgy play an important role in the N’tomo Society, so a brass covering greatly increases the status of a mask.