Sculpture for Jo or Gwa Society

Accession Number

Sculpture for Jo or Gwa Society


Artist Nationality

Object Creation Date
20th century

Medium & Support
carved wood

37 3/4 in x 7 3/8 in x 7 1/2 in (95.9 cm x 18.8 cm x 19 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase assisted by the Friends of the Museum of Art

Label copy
Old record:
The exact function of this figure is not known. The older Bamana people claim that the figures were once displayed by a women's cult which is no longer active. The cult promoted fertility, but the connection between these figures and child bearing is unclear. They may have been offered to the cult to express thanks after a successful pregnancy.
This figure is used in ceremonies initiating young boys and girls into adulthood.
There are two main kinds of sculture associated with the Jo (and Gwa) societies: 1) the figure sculptures called (Jo)nyeleni ("pretty little one" or "little ornament) that are carried by the Jodenw ("children of Jo, i.e. the initiates) as they sing and dance during Jo performances; and 2) the larger and more massive figures that are the responsibility of the oldest and most advanced Jo members and that are used a) at the annual celebration of Jo, and b) at the annual celebration of Gwa, an institution affiliated with Jo that is primarily concerned with fertility (at both these occasions sacrifices were brought to the sculptures as well as the places in which they were kept).
On the occasion of their respective performances, both nyeleni and Jo and Gwa sculpures are washed and rubbed with oil to make them black and shiny; they are then clothed with loincloths and headties, as well as adorned with various materials.
The difference in style between the nyeleni and Jo/Gwa sculpures is that the latter are more massive and round rather than thin and pole-like.
Notice the helmet that the figure is wearing: resembling the hats worn by Mande hunters, who are known for their magical prowess, it indicates the knowledge and power the wearer possesses.
(Source: Ezra, Kate. A Human Ideal in African Art. 1986, pp. 15-30)

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