PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ZAFRIRA AND ITZHAK SHOHER, TEL AVIV
According to Kerchache (1988: 512) for the Senufo, the poro association "[...] is the pillar of communal life. Responsible for the initiation and training of the young boys, it is aimed at shaping an accomplished, social man who is integrated into the collective; it aids his entry into public responsibilities. [...] The Senufo believe in a god, Koulotiolo, creator of the world, a distant and inaccessible diety. On the other hand, the mother of the village, Katieleo, regenerates the world and redeems humankind through the initiation rites of the poro. [...] A male villager who has not been initiated will be excluded from the village and will lose his rights as a citizen."
Garrard (in Phillips 1996: 457) notes: "In former times many of the men's secret Poro societies in the Senufo region owned a large standing sculpture of a bird. This statue, kept in the sacred forest, was used in the rites for the admission of initiates to the final phase of training. It generally had a hollowed base, which permitted it to be carried on the head of an initiate. Some examples also have holes in the wings, through which cords were passed to steady the bird when carried. [...] Older Senufo [...] usually name it as sejen or fijen [...] a term that simply means 'the bird'. The significance of this bird is indicated more clearly by two other names. It is sometimes called kasingele, 'the first ancestor', which may refer either to the mythological founder of the human race or to the ancestral founder of the sacred forest. Alternatively, it is named poropia nong, which means literally 'mother of the Poro child'. The statue is thus a primary symbol of the Poro leadership, indicating the authority of its elders."
The morphology of these rare statues references both male and female characteristics, with the swollen, pregnant belly, and the elongated phallic beak. A related figure is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. "1978.412.382").
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