The High Tone of Art in The Culture The Bambaras of Mali
The Bambara ethnic society is located in the central part of Mali. The Bambara cultivate the land for sustenance. The main occupation there is farming. The people engage in agricultural activities like the planting and cultivation of corn and other cereals. A section of the people also engages in pastoral farming. Some few selected people were trained in smithing and carving. These smiths and carvers are greatly respected and feared because they are believed to be closer to the gods and ancestors.
Their cultural life is cluttered with a lot of religious beliefs. These beliefs were greatly portrayed using artistic productions in sculpture, textiles, Blacksmithing, beadwork and much more. The Bambaras believe in God whom they call Faro. He is believed among the people as the creator and redeemer of the universe who sends rain for the fertility of the land. The sacred colour of Faro is white. Therefore, he is petitioned through the performance of certain oracles and rituals before any farming activity is started on a land. White items and objects are offered to him as sacrifices during the performance of the rituals such as white clothes, eggs, cowrie shells, white sheep and hens. It is believed that when this is done, the people will earn the favour and blessings of Faro and a bumper harvest. They also believed in ancestors.
Six secret societies governed the Bambara ethnic society. They exercise authority over all the aspects of the life of the people. However, the most powerful and influential of the six secret societies are the Komo secret society and the Flankuru secret society. The Komo secret society exercises judicial powers while the Flankuru secret society supervises agricultural activities. All the men in the society are to join these secret societies. The young boys between the ages of seven years and twelve years also join a youth group which is also a secret society called the Ntomo secret society. It offers training to the young ones regarding good behavior and manners. Artifacts were used immensely as teaching aids.
The Bambaras practiced various forms of art. These include sculpture, textiles, blacksmithing and beadwork. The sculpted figures they made included masks, male and female ancestral and fertility figures, cult objects such as bowls, stools, flutes, Harps and door latches or locks. Ritual staffs were produced in iron.
Their sculptural figures are generally monumental, cubist, thin and pillar-like. The breasts of the female figures are cone-shaped, heavy and are projected in a forward position. The hairstyle is in a transverse, a popular hairstyle of the Bambara men. The arms of the figure hang at the sides of the figure and the surface of the figure is decorated with various ethnic body marks which have symbolic meanings. The sculptured figures are decorated with glass beads, cowrie shells, and strips of copper sheets. The surfaces of the figures are blackened with a heated iron. It is then finished by burnishing with shea butter.
The famous mask produced by the Bambara is the Chiwara mask or headdress which is in the form of an antelope. The textile was done mostly by the Bambara women. The chief material they used was cotton, which was dyed in the discharge dyeing technique. They decorated the surface of the cloth with elegant geometric patterns.
The female sculpted figures are used in fertility cults which ensured the fertility of women in the society. The Chiwara masks are worn during ritual dances before tilting and planting are done on the land. It is believed by the people that it was the antelope that taught them how to cultivate grain. Therefore the antelope is viewed as sacred among the people. During harvest and puberty rites where the fertility of the land and women is earnestly sought, the dancers wear the Chiwara mask or headdress. Their dance movements, leaps, and vibrations reflect that of an antelope. This symbolic dance symbolizes the magical relationship of the antelope to fertility among the Bambara.
Less propagation and exhibition of the culture of the Bambaras would have been made if it was not through art. Therefore, art, must be highly considered and incorporated into the developmental agenda of communities and nations.