Lot 144
  • 144

Bamana Ntomo Mask, Mali

25,000 - 35,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 20 inches (50.8 cm)
painted in red on the reverse with inventory number "62.36".


Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York
Museum of Primitive Art, New York (inv. no. "62.36")
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, African, Oceanic, American Indian, Pacific Northwest Coast, and Pre-Columbian Art: Duplicates from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and the Museum of Primitive Art, May 4, 1967, lot 14
Private Collection, New York, acquired at the above auction

Catalogue Note

According to Colleyn (2001: 95) "The Ntomo, a society of as-yet uncircumcised children, is well-known in the West thanks to its beautiful masks and the classic book by Dominique Zahan (Zahan 1960). [...]  The Ntomo opens the door of the Korè, and other initiation societies.  Everybody knows the Ntomo song that summarizes the obligation of keeping their secrets: 'Close your mouth firmly, close your mouth; the mouth is the enemy' (Aw ye a gweleya aw daw la, da de jugu ye).  The Ntomo dancers hold a whip or flexible rod, for it is within the framework of Ntomo that the young boys learn, by grace of ritual flagellation, to keep quiet and to suffer in silence."

According to Cissé (in Dapper 2000: 149-150), the ntomo was placed under the patronage of Faro, god of water, the third divinity to appear in the Bamana creation myth. Combining the opposing forces of culture and nature, the divinity is described as the "pivot" and the "head of all things" (Dieterlen 1950).

Ntomo dancers represent primordial man and human perfection. They appear harmonious, androgynous and in possession of a multitude of human virtues. The Bamana believe the mouth to be a part of the anatomy intimately linked to the establishing of social interaction. By the same token, it can also be an origin of serious social disruption, especially through the spoken word. Thus the ntomo dancer is silent, uttering no sound while performing.

The present seven-horned Ntomo mask, formerly in the collection of New York Governor (later Vice-President) Nelson A. Rockefeller, is distinguished by its strong, cubist design featuring a deep brow and a stern, authoritative expression.  It is also exceptional in its state of preservation, richly embellished with attachments of cowrie shells and abrus seeds, adhered with resin and earth.

For a related cowrie-covered Bamana mask previously in the collection of Werner Muensterberger, New York, see Sotheby's, Paris, June 11, 2008, lot 84.