1080 x 615 CMS210 E - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

MaliBamana artist



H. 45.7 cm (18")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.210


Members of the men’s Kore society, the most senior of six Bamana jow or initiation societies, wear animal masks with a simple cloth costume, consisting of little more than the owner’s own clothes.  The Kore masks appear each year at the end of the dry season, when they participate in rites intended to provide agricultural fertility and abundant rainfall.  They also appear every seven years at ceremonies held for the induction of new initiates into the Kore society. 

Within the Kore there are eight grades, or levels, through which the initiates rise with continued religious training.  Membership in four of these grades is marked by the use of animal masks.  The mask wearers imitate the movements of the animals which they represent. 

Suruku (hyena) masks are used by one of the most junior grades of the Kore. The hyena, a stupid, cruel, and gluttonous animal, is a symbol of human folly and imperfect knowledge.  The mask “reminds the initiates of the stability and equilibrium that characterize a man who can control his passions and is not inquisitive or greedy or insatiable” (Zahan 1974: 22, pl. 32).

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

Featured in Key Moments in LifeEducation / Initiation