African Farmers and their Art

African Farmers and their Art


The majority of Africans are not kings, priests, witchdoctors, and sorcerers, but farmers who spend the greater parts of their lives producing grain or cultivating root crops. Their aesthetic life is closely linked to this fact of their existence. Some of the greatest sculptural traditions of Africa are represented by masks and figures produced to assure the fertility of the fields and the survival of their cultivators. The Bambara, a Mandinka group of more than one million people living in Mali, have become noted for their metalwork, basketry, leatherwork, weaving, dyeing, and woodcarving. Bambara masks are associated with four major cult associations: the n'domo, komo, kove, and tyi wara. These societies bring out their masks during both dry and wet seasons; they "help" with the sowing, weeding, and harvesting of the Bambara's staple crop, millet, and celebrate the coming and going of rain.

The n'domo mask, with its vertical horns, symbolizes growing millet - the corn will stand up strong and erect like the horns of the mask. The horns are eight in number and rise up straight in a row, like stretched fingers above the top of the head and on the same plane as the ears. The horns represent, in a schematic way, the various episodes of the Bambara creation myth, the eight horns in the ideal mask representing the eight primordial seeds created by God for the building of the universe. The basic meaning of the horn symbolism derives from the assimilation of these organs to the growth of grain and the human liver - Bambara farmers say that animal horns are to animals what the liver is to humans and what vegetable shoots are to the earth.

The symbolism and rites of other Bambara societies and masks are also closely related to the prosaic activity of farming. The komo mask represents the hyena, the great laborer of the soil and guardian of life. The tyi wara mask represents a fabulous being, half man, half animal, who in the past taught men how to farm. During the sowing and growing seasons the tyi wara antelope mask represents the spirits of the forest and water, and assures fertility to the fields and to man.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Size chart

Centimeters (CM)

Inches (IN)

50CM x 40CM

19 11/16 in X 15 3/4 in

60CM x 60CM

23 5/8 in X 23 5/8 in

70CM X 50CM

27 9/16 in X 19 11/16 in

80CM X 60CM

31 1/2 in X 23 5/8 in

100CM X 80CM

39 3/8 in X 31 1/2 in

140CM X 110CM

55 1/8 in X 43 5/16 in