Adult Initiation

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Bamana peoples

Komo kun (head of Komo)

Wood, quill, feather, horn

H. 24.8 cm (9 3/4")

Detroit Institute of Arts, 72.734

The next levels of Bamana initiation occur later in life, and through them, men learn the dire secrets of life and death. Komo masks, figures, and shrines can be terrifying affairs, for they are “multiple-media constructions that orchestrate materials ... to generate massive amounts of useful energy” in ways that are “designed intentionally to be horrific” (McNaughton 1979: 14, 31). Indeed, such striking collage gives fear a face as bits and pieces of experience are thrust together without the slightest regard for the ordinary order of things. A storm of meaning is formed that threatens to explode. Komo forms are by no means finished, then, for they stand for anything that has happened, may happen, and will happen (Roberts 1995: 93). “Their energy can influence the world” (McNaughton 1979: 35) because they are the essence of “everything in a tiny place, a black hole's vortex, into and out of which pass the concept and the power ‘to be’” (Roberts 1995: 93). Because of such potential, Komo helps people to cope with social change even as the tenets of society are reinforced through ritual performance.