Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

Elder jo member holding a koni kun, headdress for jo initiate, 1978. Photo by Kate Ezra.


This man is holding one of the headdresses worn by jo initiates of the nkènyè group.  These headdresses consist of flat, arch-shaped wood crests called koni kunw.  The crest is attached to a fiber cap and wig.  They are often pierced by geometric cutout designs and are also decorated with bright red seeds, flashy mirrors, or feathers.  These headdresses, as well as the costumes, musical instruments, and sculptures that are used in the jo initiates' performances are considered mafilè fen, fleli fèn  ("something to look at").  The Bamana use this term to refer to all types of artistic expression, including music, dance, and theater as well as sculpture and masks. It conveys the idea that for the Bamana, sculpture is just one of many artistic means, all of which serve to attract your attention and focus your eye, so that your mind can absorb its meaning.