Sculpture of the Bamana Jo Society

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

Horse frame, for the troupe of jo initiates called "Masters of the Horse," sotigiw, 1978. Photo by Kate Ezra.


For the itinerant performances that follow jo initiation, each group of jo initiates has its own characteristic costumes, music, dance, songs, and sculptures.  One group is called sotigiw (Masters of the Horse), and is a reminder of the mounted warriors who were the elite fighters in the Bamana armies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  For performances, this wooden frame would be fleshed out with fibers strung with red and white seeds, giving the horse bulk and solidity as well as flashy color. 

The initiates dance while straddling the horses, which are supported by ropes hung around their necks.  In 1978, when I did my field research on the art of the jo society, there were no initiations for me to observe.  I had to rely on informants showing me objects, such as this horse frame, and describing their use.  Later, in the 1980s, a team of researchers from the Malian National Museum, witnessed jo initiations and performances, and their photographs confirms the information I was given.