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

Guinea-Conakry; Baga artist

D'mba (headdress)


H. 130.8 cm (51 1/2")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.180

Wedding ritual often constitutes the next initiation after boys' and girls' initiations, which, in many cases, have had preparation for marriage as an explicit goal. During wedding festivities, the role of women in society is often exalted, for after all, life does begin with mother. Among Baga, great D'mba (or Nimba) sculptures portray a woman at the zenith of her strength and powers (Lamp 1996). These figures possess a quiet dignity, the elaborate hairdo of an adult, scarification that evokes beauty and accomplishment, and breasts flat from having nourished many babies. Subtle symbolism alludes to agriculture and plenty, affection and good cooking. D'mba sculptures appear at weddings, “so that the new spouses will choose the good path” (ibid.). Strong young men wear the heavy wooden D'mba and its costume of raffia and cloth. Acrobatic choreography brings the mask to life in leaps, rolls, and even dancing on housetops to joyously proclaim women’s worth.