The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Bamana Women’s Pottery

by Barbara Frank
SUNY at Stony Brook

Bamana potter Seban Fané, Kunògò, Mali, 1991. Photograph by Barbara E. Frank.


Bamana potters are part of a complex social and artistic network among the Mande peoples of West Africa.  Identified collectively as nyamakalaw, blacksmiths, potters, bards and leatherworkers form a separate social class from the mostly farmer majority. A woman does not simply choose to become a potter. She is born into a family of blacksmiths and potters, who protect the secrets of their trades by endogamous marriage practices. The Bamana term for potter, numumuso, is generally translated as "blacksmith woman", but means much more than the wife or mother of a blacksmith.