Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

Mali; Bamana peoples

Seated mother and child

15th-20th century


H. 123.5 cm (48 5/8")

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, U.S.A., The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.121)

A figure of a mother and child is always included at the center of the group of sculptures displayed at annual celebrations of the jo society. In many ways the mother and child figure sums up the themes of these sculptural ensembles.  Seated in a position of honor, she is also wearing an amulet-studded hat and a knife strapped to her upper left arm, both signs of extraordinary power and wisdom.  Yet she is shown as a mother, one of the most essential roles that women play in Bamana society and their most important obligation to their families.  The mother and child figure combines both themes represented by the group of jo society sculptures: people who have pursued power, and those who have submitted to their roles in society.  To achieve harmony people must honor their responsibilities, and to achieve progress, people must cultivate their special powers and abilities.  The jo society figures represent both ideals of behavior, and show that each can be fulfilled by men and women alike.