Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

Members of the association of uncircumcised boys, in their costumes, 1978. Photo by Kate Ezra.


Preparations for initiation into the jo society begin in childhood.  Young boys have their own association, in which they learn to participate in rituals and celebrations, and to perform wearing masks like their adult counterparts.  Here we see two boys modeling the cloth costumes worn during yearly celebrations of their association.  The boys participate in these junior associations until they are circumcised, which usually takes place during puberty.  Their training continues for six years after this painful ordeal, during which time they learn about the jo society through a process called nyè yèlè (opening their eyes). This consists of gradually allowing them to see the sacred objects, places, and people associated with the jo society.  These revelations culminate in the actual initiation, called jofaga (killing [in] jo), a ritual in which the candidates are symbolically killed.  They are revived the next day, and after a week of recovery they return to the village as new jo members.