By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Bamana peoples

Flanitokele (female figure)


H. 46.3 cm. (18”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.575

The Bamana of Mali also create special figures for twins as part of a religious association called sinzin.  Twins are seen as a great gift to their parents, as beings with extraordinary positive powers.  The figures called flanitokele are carved after the death of a twin, either male or female depending on the sex of the deceased twin. Local traditions determine the guardian of the figure (either the surviving twin, the father, or the mother) who is responsible for the maintenance of the nyama of the dead twin.  The nyama is the character or the spirit that is separated from the twin’s body at death.  Although most children are believed to incarnate the spirit of a recently deceased ancestor, twins do not reincarnate ancestors.  Bamana twins are new souls, given directly from Faro, the primary deity of the Bamana. They are given special names in conjunction with ceremonies honoring their birth.