Senufo , Objet art of the ethnic Senufo - African-art.net
fermer cette fenêtre


Senufo

There are two types of mask among the Senufu:

  • The anthropomorphic facial masks called Kpelie
  • The zoomorphic helm masks called Poniugo

The Kpelie masks make reference to an ancestor. This mask represents a beautiful young woman with a long oval face, a long nose with small nostrils, the ‘legs’ at the top and at the bottom of the mask represent strands of hair, and the decoration to the right and the left of the face the ears.

The zoomorphic masks are spectacular helm masks on which the zoomorphic elements are sculpted in a horizontal plane. The characteristics of several animals may appear on the same mask according to its usage: antelope horns, warthog teeth.

Identifiable among Senufu statues :

-        The Magical Statues (Kafigueledio).

These are roughly sculpted statues, covered from head to foot in a dark cloth. The arms are moveable and hold either wooden or metal weapons. The head is covered with feathers or porcupine quills. This statue is linked to black magic.

-        The Deble

These statues play an important part during the Poro society funerals. Big, they stand about 1m high, they depict a standing woman, her arms alongside her body, her hands on her groin, and the feet rest upon a large cylinder like a chef’s hat.

 

In the next few paragraphs we invite you to discover the characteristics of the Senufu people, and get a better understanding of the Senufu statues and masks and their usages.

The Senufu live to the north of the Ivory Coast, in Mali and the Upper Volta. They are farming people who mainly cultivate yams.

Political and Social Organisation among the Senufu

There is both a political village chief, and a chief of the earth. The latter acts as priest as well, playing an intermediary role between the farmers and the ancestors. The society is matrilineal.

The village is made up of a dozen or so districts each inhabited by a distinct lineage. The inhabitants live from the harvest obtained from communally working the land. Each lineage occupies a zone, surrounded by walls and capable of containing several households, including grain stores, huts for both the men and the women, adjoining courtyards, altars, and huts used for worship. The village is led by a council made up of male elders who assist the chief, and who are the matrilineal descendants of the founding lineage (matrilineal society). Each lineage is led by a chief chosen among the oldest villagers, not for his qualities, but by matrilineal succession rules.

The blacksmith, as among the Bamara and the Dogon belongs to a cast. He is a tradesman that works with both wood and metal (uniquely for everyday objects), and he also has priestly functions.

Male Initiation among the Senufu: the Poro

Knowledge is acquired on two levels: the first is practical and entails learning a universal moral code. The second is esoteric and takes place at the heart of the Poro.

An institution reserved for men, the Poro, which can also be found among other ethnic groups, is the pillar of the community. Responsible for the initiation and training of the young boys, its aim is to forge an accomplished man, socially integrated into the community and capable of taking on public responsibilities. Each district, inhabited by a particular lineage has its own Poro community.

The Poro has three levels:

1° The boys from 13-20 years old: first the children dance with a wooden crest mask that represents a hornbill, symbol of fecundity (Nayogo phase). Then (Kaapara phase) they learn the history of their people, the genealogy of the chiefs, the minor rites and ritualistic dances.

2° At this level (Tyologo) the symbolic death and resurrection of the initiate as an adult takes place. He follows a more in depth initiation into the meaning of the world and all things in it.

3° This third level or (Kafo) is made up of the more mature men, responsible for the initiation of the two former levels and of the funerary rituals.

Masks intervene during the member’s initiation and at burials.

The training sessions in the sacred forest last around one month. In-between the sessions, the initiates carry out collective tasks and learn a secret language.

The Poro society, which is very powerful, generates a spirit of co-operation, of brotherhood, and of mutual help between initiates of the same age group. A villager that has not been initiated is excluded from the village and has absolutely no rights as a citizen.

Each district or section of the Poro has its own sacred wood in a certain zone of the forest. Containing several edifices, this place is visited by the dead ancestors and the bush spirits. It is also home to a sanctuary, housing the altar where sacrifices are made, and the meeting and teaching houses where the initiates prepare for ritual ceremonies and festivities.

The  Womens’ Initiation : Sandogo 

This prepares the young girls for excision, and for motherhood. Maternity allows the passage to the higher levels or echelons.

Statues that glorify fecundity and procreation exist in the form of women breastfeeding their child on their knee. These statues play an important religious role, and are sometimes covered in sacrificial blood.

In certain Senufu tribes, the women dance to the sound of drums with a feminine statuette placed on their heads.

The Sandogo is responsible for divination and for relations with the bush spirits, who might otherwise upset agricultural activities, hunting and craftwork. There is only one Sandogo section per village.

The Religious Beliefs of the Senufu

The Senufu believe in two gods, one masculine Kolotyolo and the other feminine Katyelëëö, creators of the world and distant inaccessible divinities (Cf: section Arts & Society of the website). Poro rites are led by the mother of the village Katyelëëö, who has the power to renew the world and to buy back man.

In the first stage of the Genesis, the stars were created, then the rain, the rivers and the trees as well as the first animals. The second stage saw the creation of man and woman.

The Senufu Sculptor

The sculptor is an artisan who makes all sorts of objects, within the framework of a family business and that follows the laws of matrilineal succession. He lives in a separate area along with the blacksmiths. In theory, succession follows the family line, however, given the fundamental nature of this activity for the liturgical life of the village, chiefs could decide to make talented pupils or nephews and cousins of the sculptor, apprentices too.

Initiation lasts 7 or 8 years. The apprentice begins by learning to make secular objects, as the initiation is an essential condition in the fabrication of ritual objects. The objective is to be able to make objects endowed with supernatural virtues. There are a great number of taboos, and learning mythology is also very important.

Both Senufu sculpture and workshops are great in number.

Senufu Masks

There are two types of mask among the Senufu:

  • The anthropomorphic facial masks called Kpelie
  • The zoomorphic helm masks called Poniugo

Kpelie masks refer to an ancestor and in certain cases to Katyelëëo, the primordial ancestor or feminine god. This mask has several uses:

-        A dance at the end of the second level of the Poro: on this occasion, the mask is accompanied by a black neck cover and cowrie shells.

-        A dance for fecundity, when the mask wears a large blanket around its neck.

-        At burials, the Kpelie is worn by members of the secret Kulibele society and allows its members to commemorate the defunct.

-        It is used for entertainment towards the end of February and at the start of the hot season.

This mask represents a beautiful young woman with a long oval face, a long nose with small nostrils, the ‘legs’ at the top and at the bottom of the mask represent strands of hair, or horns for the top.  The decoration to the right and the left of the face represents the ears. The forehead, in-between the two strands of hair, is often decorated with a chameleon, a hornbill, palm oil nuts…Sometimes, the mask is made of two faces side by side. Not all of the Senufu have a Kpelie mask. However, it is widespread in most of the southern parts of Senufu country and has become an emblem for the Senufu in a similar way to the Tyi-wara crest mask for the Bamara. The name, Kpelie, comes from the verb ‘to jump’, which means that the mask’s name literally translates to ‘the jumping face’, in reference to the frenzied dance of the mask wearer. The Kpelie mask is not surrounded by secrets or mystery and can be seen by all.

When a Kpelie mask is commissioned, orders are rarely given as to the form the mask must take. Each sculptor uses his own model unless he is given other specific instructions.

The zoomorphic masks are spectacular helm masks on which the zoomorphic elements are sculpted in a horizontal plane. The characteristic of several animals may appear on the same mask according to its usage: antelope horns, warthog teeth. There are four categories of zoomorphic masks:

-        The Ghodiugu :animal head with its mouth wide open and no teeth

This mask is used to symbolize the passage to adulthood during the Tyologo level of the Poro initiation. Its role is to unleash the forces of the afterlife; this mask also appears at funerals and represents the Poro.

-        The Korobla : animal head with its mouth wide open, with teeth

This mask is opposed to the Waniugo, and has a uniquely beneficial role. It carries feathers and has a raffia collar around its base. Its role is to offer protection from black magic. At funerals, this mask turns around the dead person and shouts for his soul to be freed. The Korobla is known for spitting fire, smoke and swarms of bees. It hunts down witches and is capable of burning them and devouring them up.

-        The Gbeligeniugu :animal head with antelope horns and a mouth full of teeth

This mask evokes the fundamental themes of the Poro teachings.  During funeral ceremonies it appears hitting a small drum to make the dead person’s soul leave the body, and join the world of the ancestors and to no longer trouble the living. Its last usage is magical: when somebody really wants something very strongly, the dancer puts the mask back on after having spread sacrificial animal blood over his material neck cover, in the hope that the request will be fulfilled.

-        The Waniugo: identical to the precedent mask but with warthog horns. There is also a double Waniugo with two Janus mouths.

It has a magical role. The Senufu distinguish between the small world where humans live, and the immensity of the unknown forces. This mask acts as an intermediary between the two worlds, and a ball of magical substances placed on the forehead or in the mask’s mouth, symbolizes evil forces.

This mask witnesses oaths and wipes out treachery. It is responsible for death, the rain, tornados and thunder. When the mask has two mouths this signifies a power superior to that of witchcraft.

Senufu Statues

-        The Magical Statues (kafigueledio).

These are quickly sculpted statues, covered from head to foot in a dark cloth. The arms are moveable and hold either wooden or metal weapons. The head is covered with feathers or porcupine quills. This statue is linked to black magic, and sachets or horns filled with poisonous substances testify to this fact. The cloth is covered in the blood of victims sacrificed in its honour.  It is offered eggs. This mask is used for designating the receiver of an evil spell or of a judicial decision (by pointing with one of its weapon bearing arms), to unmask false testimonies, accomplices etc.

-        The Deble

These statues play an important part during the Poro society funerals. Large in size, they measure about 1m high, they depict a standing woman, her arms alongside her body, her hands on her groin, and the feet rest upon a large cylinder like a chef’s hat.

These symbols of fecundity are manhandled by young people who hit them against the ground to a slow rhythm in order to purify the earth and to make it fertile, as well as to call to the ancestors and their positive forces.

Not unlike many Senufu statues, the coiffure is crest shaped, the face narrow and prognathic, and the mouth is identifiable by a slit at the extremity of the chin. The breasts are slightly curved and drooping. Droopy eyelids replace the eyes.

-        Other smaller statues also exist; they represent close or mythical ancestors.

-        Certain statues are used in the rituals of the Sandogo feminine sect during which divination sessions take place. The role of diviner (Sando) is transmitted between women of the same family. It is also possible to become a diviner after having been taken over by a bush spirit or a python spirit. In Africa, divination doesn’t only involve predicting the future, but also in identifying the causes of malevolent occurrences (illness, death…).

-        There is also a long staff with a seated figure at its summit. This staff is the identifying insignia of good farmers during ceremonies dedicated to fertility and to the earth.

-        The Hornbills

This is a bird that stands like a human being. The round head has an enormous beak that curves down to touch its prominent belly. The rectangular shaped wings are deployed for action. This statue represents the hornbill which is one of the primordial animals. Hornbills appear throughout Poro ceremonies where they represent the forces of the universe at the beginning of time.

Favorite items