Gwantigi (Seated Male Figure with Lance)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Almost all aspects of Bamana men’s lives, from the social and economic to the spiritual, are governed by six societies known as Dyow. The Dyow is also known by the names Jow, Dyo or Jo.

A Bamana man must pass through the initiation of all six societies in the following order: N’tomo, Komo, Nama, Kono, Chi Wara, and Kore. Once all initiations are completed, a man is considered rounded with full insight into all ancestral traditions. After the ceremonies, the new initiates, known as jodene, or 'children of the Jo', return to their villages for three nights of dancing, singing and displaying their newly acquired knowledge. In return for providing this entertainment, the jodene earn gifts of money, cotton and food, which are used during the rites that mark their reintegration into village life.

Gwantigi figures are associated with a male and female Jo initiation societies in southern Mali. They are also used in Gwan, a type of Jo that supports women’s fertility and childbirth. The name gwantigi means 'master or chief of Gwan.'

During the annual Jo celebrations, a community’s works are taken from their shrines, cleaned, oiled, decorated and displayed in the village square.

Over the years, interest and participation in Jo initiations have declined. This is thought to be a result of increasing conversion to Islam, global modernisation, and the sale or theft of figures that are integral to the ceremonies.

Distinguishing Features

  • Carved seated on a chair or standing
  • Wears a hunter's hat adorned with animal horns and amulets
  • Thin, tapered face
  • Brow dipping to sharp point between eyes
  • Large, heavy-lidded eyes
  • Eyes closely spaced
  • Slender nose
  • Closed mouth
    • Sometimes cared to reveal rows of teeth
  • Sharply projecting lips
  • Wide, arching shoulders
  • Arms held close to body
  • Dagger worn on upper arm
  • Figure holds lance in right hand (weapon of distinction)
  • Long, massive torso

Share this