wood, cowries, Abrus precatorius seeds
17¾ x 5⅝ x 3¾ in
45.09 x 14.29 x 9.53 cm
Gift of Jeffrey P. and Melody F. DeLawter in celebration of VMFA's 75th anniversary
Bamana boys move through age-related training and initiations on their passage to manhood. Ntomo, the second-level initiation society, employs masks during lessons prior to the circumcision of the young men.
Ntomo masks are characterized by a narrow face with comblike projections above the head, and they are usually covered with cowries and red seeds (Abrus precatorius). The mouth—here depicted by four cowries arranged diagonally to meet at a point—is tightly closed to convey the message that young initiates should keep silent: some of their lessons require secrecy, and they do not yet possess the wisdom of the older men’s initiation societies.