Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

MaliBamana peoples

Female figure

Late 19th-early 20th century


H x W x D: 93.5 x 14 x 13.5 cm (36 13/16 x 5 1/2 x 5 5/16 in.)

Gift of Walt Disney World Co., a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company


Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

This figure is also a "companion," displayed alongside the central pair of seated male and female figures at the annual celebrations of the jo society.  It represents a woman carrying a vessel on her head and lifting her breasts with her hands.   Carrying water from the well or a stream is one of a young Bamana girl's first chores, and one that she will perform throughout her life.  Bringing water for drinking and bathing is a sign of respect and hospitality to others.  Similarly, the sculpture's gesture toward her breasts underscores women's role as nurturers.  In addition to depicting people with extraordinary powers, jo society figures also represent those who perform their obligations to family and society and who show respect for others.  By representing both types of people, the jo society figures show that the Bamana consider both to be necessary for society to succeed.