Mali, Bougouni or Dioila area; Bamana peoples
H. 48 5/8 in. (123.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.121)
Created by a Bamana sculptor who lived in what is now Mali, this heroic image of mother and child may be as much as 500 years old. The maternity figure represents a woman of extraordinary status. She sits on a seat of leadership. Her ample breasts are those of a mature woman who has given birth to many children. The baby she clutches in her lap further attests to her devotion to the institution of motherhood. The dagger mounted on her upper arm and her headdress covered with amulets in the form of animal horns are signs of a powerful hunter and warrior.
Sculptural figures like this one are commissioned and cared for by Bamana elders, distinguished leaders of an organization known as Jo. An initiation association, Jo is stratified by age group and levels of spiritual knowledge, and is unique in its inclusion of both men and women. Jo establishes and regulates fundamental Bamana cultural precepts and values, and attempts to instill them in the general populace. This idealized figure suggests the role played by members of Jo in ensuring the well-being of successive generations of the community. Groupings of such sculptural figures are displayed before the community. Seen together, they assert the interdependence of all its members and suggest how individuals should ideally complement one another. Of all the Jo figures owned collectively by a Bamana community, the most important representation is that of the archetypal mother and child.