Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

Members of the nkènyè group of jo initiates. Photo by Viviana Pâques ["Bouffons sacrés du cercle de Bougouni (Soudan français)," Journal de la Société des Africanistes 24 (1954): 63-110, p. II C].

When the new jo members return to the village, they celebrate their successful completion of the initiation ordeal by showing off the jo songs and dances they have learned and the jo costumes they are now permitted to wear.   They spend the next several months travelling to surrounding villages to put on similar performances and display their hard-earned knowledge of jo.  For these journeys the new initiates travel in small groups, each with its own characteristic type of performance, distinguished by sculpture, costumes, songs, dances, musical instruments, and behavior.  This photograph from the early 1950's shows initiates of the most common group, called nkènyè after the cylindrical wood instruments whose sounds accompany their performances.  Each nkènyè troupe has instruments of several sizes, each producing a different tone.  Nkènyè members wear skirts made of black-dyed fibers, decorative panels made of red and white seeds, and fiber wigs topped with carved wood crests.