Art of the Bamana Blacksmith

by Patrick McNaughton
Indiana University

Two youth association dancers wearing masks formerly used in the esoteric Ntomo association, Bamana peoples, Mali. Photo by Patrick McNaughton. 

With very few exceptions it is the blacksmiths that make all of the sculpture used by the Mande, in contexts that range from public entertainment to the most secret of esoteric initiation associations. In this picture two masks are being worn during a nighttime public performance intending to entertain and also to encourage the proper development of the community's young citizens by presenting them with images and songs that exemplify Mande values. The masks are shaped exactly like those used in a secret association for young men (Ntomo), which is supposed to teach spiritual and social principles. This kind of mask is considered so beautiful that it has been "borrowed” from its original context and creatively adapted to a new one.