Exceptional Bamana Jo Society “Nyeleni” Statue from Mali
In Bamana culture, the Jo Society employs collective spiritual power via initiation, ceremony and ritual objects to assure harmony and cohesion in the tribal group.
Jo Society carved figures represent adults who have pursued power (male figure) or submitted to their roles in society (female figure with child) for the benefit of the community. They are gathered together at annual celebrations to be ritually washed, adorned, and fed.
This sublime carving is probably a “jonyeleniw”, also known as “nyeleni”, which means young woman. These statues represent the highest ideals of maiden beauty and serve as “companions” to the seated male and female statues during the celebrations. They are also displayed every seven years for the newly initiated Jo male members of marriageable age to set a standard.
She stands 19’ tall, wearing a traditional headdress similar to a hunter’s cap with three amulets adorning it. Her back is straight, her bearing regal, hands are held palms up, possibly indicating she accepts her future role in society.
No wonder early anthropologists incorrectly dubbed these “Queen Figures”, as she is queenly indeed.
Carved of a heavy dark wood, the breaks on both feet and one hand indicate that this in an older piece. The damage to the feet would have prevented balance and could possibly be why it was retired. She is now beautifully balanced on her stand.
It was purchased in Mali in the 1960s and has been in my collection for over 30 years.