Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

by Kate Ezra
Yale University Art Gallery (formerly Columbia College of Art)

House for storing jo society objects, in a Bamana village near Dioïla, 1978. Photo: Kate Ezra.

Among the Bamana people initiation associations are the focus of traditional life, in terms of religion, politics, social relations, and art.  Initiation during one's teenage years is a necessary step toward being considered an adult, and further initiations into higher levels of knowledge and responsibility continue throughout one's life.  Men and women have their own separate associations, although the men's societies are better known.  The power of these associations is based on ritual objects that give them their spiritual force, and on solemn oaths that members take upon entering the association.  Jo is the name of one initiation association found among the southern Bamana.  The building shown here is known as the jo bon, house of the jo association.  Inside the jo bon are stored the society's sacred objects as well as the sculptures, musical instruments, and other props that make the celebrations of the jo society exciting, stimulating, and art-filled events.