BAMBARA MASKS

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Bambara peoples live in central and southern Mali. They belong to the great group o the Mande, like the Soninke and the Malinke. The Bambara believe in the existence of a creator god generically called Ngala, that has 266 sacred attributes. One by every day that adds the 9 lunar months that the gestation of a boy lasts. Ngala maintains the order in the universe. Its existence coexists with another androgynous deity called Faro, that provides all the qualities to men and makes grow the Earth fruits.

Many times I have asked several Bambara people about its mythology. Firstly each person gave me a different version. Then, the versions increased exponentially, since the same people told me different histories me according to the day. Most of the Bambara are now Muslim, and lamentably their beliefs of oral transmission are being lost. In any case, the Bambara have never been an entirely homogeneous group, since its origin is in the union of several different groups. At the moment they constitute the predominant ethnic group in Mali, one of the countries with more cultural wealth of all sub-Sahara western Africa. The Bambara began their splendor at the beginning of century XVII, when Kaladian Kulibary reunited a great number of rival tribal groups, and founded the empire of Segu, arriving to dominate all the curve of Niger.

"Bambara" is a pejorative term used by the Muslims to designate the nonbelieving ones. Nevertheless, all the Bambara persons that I have talked with, use that term, and no one has become angry when I have done it. Bamana is the same as Bambara.

Bambara masks are used during rituals of initiation, and in the occasion of other events like weddings, births, circumcisions, deceases, funerals, purifications of objects and beings, etc. Bambara masks receive offerings and sacrifices, and they are even solemnly buried following an appropiate rite when its role of intermediation has ended, and lost their sacred character.

As it happens with many other African groups and according to less and less practiced traditions, the Bambara transmit and preserve their culture by different ways than writing. Six groups, clans or societies called "dyo" are in charge to instruct the youngest members of the village. The initiate who has reached the highest level of education, becomes instructor and source of traditional knowledge. In each stage of learning rituals are carried out, some of them with masks.

The "n'tomo" society is in charge of the first stage, and educates all the children before the circuncisión. It instruct about the origin of man and its place in the world. This first stage is divided in sections, represented by animals. The degree of the toad concerns everything about life and death. The Sudanese toad has the reputation of not to rot after the death, evoking the idea of the eternity. The degree of the bird teaches everything what is in relation to the thought of the man. Education in the degree of the hen includes relations of men with the cosmos, since this animal has affinities with Earth and sun. The dog illustrates the domesticación concept, and makes reference to the social aspect of the man.


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