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The President and Fellows of Harvard College Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

When Is an Object Finished? The Creation of the Invisible among the Bamana of Mali Author(s): Sarah C. Brett-Smith Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 39 (Spring, 2001), pp. 102-136 Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Stable URL: . Accessed: 24/06/2011 09:29
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102 RES39 SPRING2001

Figure 1. Ci Warra headdress, purchased

in San. Private collection.


is an object finished?

The creation of the invisible among the Bamana of Mali

For Basi Fane, in memoriam

two My aim is to investigate the way inwhich the Bamana and Malinke interrelated African societies, of art.1 It of Mali, West Africa, viewed the production will explore Bamana and Malinke ideas about when an art object is 'finished' and why the ending of an object's lead 'life' is so fraught with danger for its user.2 This will us to realize that, from the Bamana or Malinke is the most difficult part of artistic creation viewpoint, into being, and eventually the dissipation, the bringing of a non-visible of uncanny power (ny?ma) component It is the process of associated with any ritual object. creating ny?ma that protracts the 'making' phase of artistic creation, and it is the presence of ny?ma that makes ending the life' of an object so difficult. In discussing artistic Bamana and Malinke it is important to avoid economic models production

that postulate a experience definite finishing point for the making of any art object and use. and a clear distinction between production derived from modern Although art of aWestern any practical discussion Dutch painting, such as a seventeenth-century object, itsmany years of 'use' and the often encompasses to the perception of its 'final' image that major changes these years have wrought, we still tend to focus on the 'pristine' image via an examination reconstructing and the use of of preparatory sketches, under-drawings,

tools, such as X-rays. Our expectations diagnostic 'life' focus, it seems, on a critical point in the object's that the where the original artist or artists considered work in question its ideal form, that itwas, had attained in colloquial terms, 'finished/1 The years of change that follow the artist's transfer of the painting or sculpture to at least, regarded as part its user are not, theoretically of the creative process, even though they may be the for the object's final appearance. While of some Western belies this history objects artificial paradigm, the Bamana case calls the paradigm itself into question. For, both the Bamana and Malinke consider that the period of an object's use ismerely an crucial actual additional stage in its creation; a sculpture or textile is 'in production,' to be made, since it continues always ever more valuable to grow, and to become something until the day when it is totally destroyed. Furthermore, if one asks a sculptor to consider the possibility of leaving an object alone, once it arrives at what a Western researcher might consider a 'finished' state, he will respond that such a carving would be an "empty" little, if any, consideration. thing, deserving This paper will focus more on the Bamana than the to but the ideas explored here are common Malinke, both societies, and, as Jean Bazin has demonstrated the two groups are so intertwined by that it history, intermarriage, and common behaviors makes no sense to treat them as separate and discrete entities. Thus, while the paper often refers to 'the (Bazin 1985), in recognition of the fact that most of my a has been carried out in the Beledugu, 'Bamana' region, much of my most quintessential^ Bamana' fieldwork

an incorrect term are often known as 'Bambara/ into and administrators that has passed by early French explorers use. Ibase my attribution set of beliefs to of an interconnected general 1. The Bamana used on my own field experience and Jean son Bambara." From 1983 1985, "A Chacun to expand Ibegan the range of my inquiries to the Kita area on, when as and to interview men and women who identified themselves both the 'Bamana' and 'Malinke' Bazin's seminal article of Malinke, creation it became clear that a unified belief system underlay the and use of sculpture in and the ritual employment of textiles both 'Bamana' and 'Malinke' societies. While mud cloths, such as the are not found among Basiae and N'Gale, the ritually significant inwhich such as the interpretation of the way 'Malinke,' actions, excision burn as indicating a woman's future fertility, undergarments are common to both groups. Similarly, while the Kita Ci Wara headdress heads like the antelope 10) looks nothing (Brett-Smith 1994:fig. as 'Bamana' Ci Waraw, it serves exactly typically characterized the same function and is called by the same name. Where important in ritual practice structural differences between the Malinke and do occur, as with the Beledugu fura ci excision and marriage will indicate this in a note. rituals, I 2. Throughout I have used double this paper marks (") to quotation I am using a word indicate when that is a direct translation of an Malinke a word marks (') to term, and single quotation use of that forms part of my own interpretation. My terms that have marks is also intended to highlight such as alert that 'caste,' the reader it seemed or 'taboo.' the best In these Iam from choice cases to the fact that or Bamana


original denote

single quotation been subject to controversy, the quotation marks should

skeptical of the term used, but among a group of unsatisfactory


104 RES39 SPRING2001

interesting information comes from Malinke speakers native to the Kangaba and Kita areas?regions usually considered I identify my sources 'Malinke.' In all cases, by their 'ethnic' affiliation, but I regard the set of ideas to both the 'Bamana' and here as common presented from the Kangaba/Kita zone through the and Segu areas up to the region of San, where Beledugu the somewhat different belief system of the Minianka begins to dominate.3 'Malinke' The Bamana are among the best known of West if only for their Ci Wara headdresses African peoples, that combine the features of antelope, lion, anteater, and into a striking ensemble pangolin (fig. 1). This headdress, isworn by the Bamana (and by many 'Malinke') which to celebrate excellence in farming, signals the Bamana as cultivators who wrest a difficult identity living from the sahel that covers much of central Mali. The northern Bamana areas, such as the Beledugu, have always been to periodic drought, and famines are subject cyclical events and expected in a life of ongoing hardship.4
3. The extent 'definition' his famous identities of the to which, 'Bambara' even after colonization and the historic


and oral traditions date the emergence of the as an autonomous ethnic group to about a.d. 1600, while Malinke identity was established with the foundation of the famous kingdom of Mali in the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth


in the regions of Segu and Kaarta centuries the Bamana a process of state formation that was began dependent on slave base.5 This raiding and slavery for its economic force and centralized system of sanctioned emerging power marked the Bamana farmer deeply, while leaving his more inaccessible Malinke neighbors relatively even today, in the midst of untouched; rapid Islamization and change, the northern Bamana are viewed as dour cultivators who cling tenaciously to traditions and beliefs that have almost vanished elsewhere. Society was and is both patriarchal and Power is concentrated male within the lineage, living rules regulated almost every stringent and sexual behavior as well as artistic members of both societies.6 authoritarian. oldest in the hands of the and in the past aspect of social for the production

and other

of Haut-S?n?gal-Niger remain fluid and overlap not always clear whether a speaker is saying that he is 'Bamana' because in non-Muslim he participates traditions like the Ci Wara refuses to pray the colonial to Allah, or whether he

in 'tribes' by Maurice Delafosse 1912 (Bazin 1985:113-121), ethnic is enormous. It is throughout Mali and

5. For an exhaustive trade facilitated 1987. 6. The

of how the economy description the development of the Segu kingdom, reader should also consult Bazin 1975. a great

of the slave see Roberts

is referring to an identity based on definition of ethnic groups and reflected to this day in the identity cards possessed can still be both One by most Malians. 'Malinke' and 'Bamana' at the same time?'Malinke' in terms of geographic origin of one's resistance set boundaries and colonially and 'Bamana' to Islam and adherence to traditional ritual 121-122). and early in terms


deal of evidence that there has suggesting inMalian, sexual mores Bamana, particularly since in 1960. Elderly and middle-aged Bamana of both independence sexes that after independence broke young men and women agreed free of traditional sexual rules that forbade sex before marriage (Brett a massive change I have mentioned this at conferences 1994:43). When or individual Malians in the United studying teaching confirmed this assertion. I use or in the States

I collected

Smith West, have

(Bazin 1985:109, 112-113, practices in the nineteenth how aptly describes term 'Bamana' could

Bazin Furthermore, twentieth centuries


the land as opposed signify that a man cultivated to engaging or in commerce, fishing, praisesinging, blacksmithing inwhich many of my This is actually the sense (1985:120-121). sources to me as "Bamana." identified themselves Beledugu The reader should be aware information Bamana," misnomer. name is not cited sources that my Minianka in this paper) identified themselves (whose as "the true


Iam intending to suggest the word 'traditional' that the Iam (and may still form) an object referring to formed a dominated non-Christian integral part of worldview by non-Islamic, Bamana and Malinke rites and thought patterns. The use of this world When certain more portions detailed of time it

as a colonially the term 'Minianka' instituted regarding Bazin (1985:101) I use also describes this mislabeling. 'Minianka' merely it is now the standard ethnic because in the San/Koutiala for the people or Mabala (called Mabara language speak by the Minianka area who the

view probably goes back to about 1890, although It is impossible to provide may be much older. any frame for most of the issues under discussion, since be uniformly vague about time, merely saying that forms part of their object Some men and women of Modibo inherited can date bamanaya

tend to my sources a certain belief or


or "Bamana-ness."

designation Minianka

1987:6). Jonckers themselves, 4. Conditions of scarcity and harshness have been the rule, not the for the Bamana, and they live with a variety of incapacitating exception and now AIDS, are all diseases; tuberculosis, polio, leprosy, malaria, Life expectancy is still short, approximately 45 years in 1987 (Kurian 1992:1242). for women A more recent et de Sant?, Mali the Enqu?te D?mographique 1995-1996, publication, still gives a general life expectancy of 47 years. for men and 47 common killers.

to "the time in behavior changes of Mali) or "the time of Moussa" Keita," (the first president (Moussa Traore, the leader of the military junta that ruled Mali prior to the current democracy), in but most cannot. Furthermore, change mores a Malinke In 1983 woman is never uniform. I in a witnessed to the rule that until a very old fashioned village tenaciously adhering mother weans her child (at about two or two and a half years) she must not have sex with her husband. When we asked her if this was not difficult, she said that itwas very difficult, in to but that if she gave her own desires, other women would make fun of her. At the same date in Bamako, other young mothers seemed to be waiting only forty

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


In this unyielding environment survival and death are still believed to depend on hidden spiritual forces?spirits, "things of the head," or as they are now called, djinns, of sorcery, ritual power, and the human manipulation sacred sculpture and ritual textiles.7 It is in the creation and destruction of these objects, the things that we label art and which the Bamana and Malinke define as "medicines," that we can discern a distinctive view of the a Bamana or Malinke client artistic process.8 When a mask or a textile, there is, of course, a commissions moment when the maker has completed the object and hands itover to its tigi or "owner." However, it would be wrong to interpret this event as the moment when the it is, so-to-say, its ideal form, when achieves object on the most superficial level. For, in 'finished,' except Bamana eyes, the artist's labor, whether it is the carving of wood or the dyeing of cloth, is only a beginning, a preparation for the more significant process of producing the ritual power that gives life to a successful "medicine." This is best illustrated by examining the language the Bamana and Malinke employ when talking about sculpture or textiles. In the past, neither sculptor nor cloth dyer would have ever referred to a mask or mud cloth as (bdg?lanfini) being "finished," (A bana). Rather, an expert textile artist like Salimata Kone would say, A nyana, "It has succeeded" or "It is good," A da falen don, "It is full," A sera, "It has arrived [atmaturity]," or A ce kayni, "It is beautiful."9 My research associate, Mr. Adama Mara, who worked with me and Salimata Kone, from 1978 until

the dyer's death in 1990, told me that he had never heard this elder comment that a cloth was "finished."10 Mr. Mara then explained that in traditional Bamana and Malinke speech "It is finished," or A bana, was a profoundly sad was only used to refer to the death of a statement; it living never to the completion of an activity. Furthermore, being, A bana was a more serious declaration than the more common A sara, "he or she has died," for A bana, "it is Sabani finished," implied a death without descendants. Cissoko, a self-confident woman of thirty-three, whose ritual and medical expertise has already brought her a large clientele of women with gynecological problems, explains this distinction as follows: Sabani: The person is not "finished," because she (or he) leaves children behind. Therefore she (or he) is not "finished." Her name will live on until the end of the world. For example, people will say about my children: "These are Sabani's children." That is the meaning of this. Someone who has never ever had a child; at her death, she is "finished."11 In a culture where neither men nor women are to be complete considered human beings unless they have had children, A bana refers not just to death but to the total annihilation that occurs ifone dies childless. As Mr. Mara's and Sabani's explanations imply, the terms that are traditionally employed in speech about human beings apply as well to the "medicines" (or art so often function as objects) that living creatures. When a carver looks at the mask he has made and comments, A falen don, "It is full," or A sera, "It has arrived," he borrows the phrases used to describe a young man or woman who has blossomed into full physical maturity. Similarly, a phrase used to describe both the ripeness of a tempting mango and human maturity can also be to describe artistic fruition. A mud cloth dyer employed

days (the time delay suggested by Islam) to resume and some probably had relations with a man much to say with assurance that a particular very difficult

sexual earlier.


it is Thus, or custom, object, a certain date. I abandoned thought pattern has been completely by were asked men and women about dating, and where certainly they able to provide approximate moments dates for widely of accepted I indicate this in the notes. Inmost cases they change merely specified that something formed part of laada or "tradition" or that itwas not an Islamic practice. 7. In the past spirits were called kungo f?nw, "things of the bush," "things of the head." Today these terms have been

the names of Bamana and Malinke in this informants cited are pseudonyms. Since much of the information cited pertains either to traditional ritual or sexual practices, it is important to maintain of my sources. An extended the anonymity discussion of my 10. All article field work 1994. The methods can be found also in the a Introduction to Brett-Smith of Salimata Kone's Introduction includes

or kunn?w almost


completely replaced by the Arabic word djinn. This shift may Islamic view of a spirits, reflect, at least in some cases, an increasingly one of my most although Kojugu Cissoko, sculptor knowledgeable uses the word as a for kungo informants, djinn simply replacement f?nw or kunn?w f?nw. For a discussion of the sculptor/c///nn see Brett-Smith 4. relationship, 1994:chap. 8. The Bamana term is basiw or "medicines, remedies."


and expertise personality (pp. 5-6). 11. Sabani told us her age in an interview on 5/25/98 in Bamako. French translation of tape (98-3), pp. 1-2. Sabani, who also performed divination her extensive using cowry shells, had acquired knowledge of traditional been trained medicine and ritual from her oldest brother interview who with French had by their father in Narena. The passage cited here comes from another recorded pp. 39^10. on 7/24/98,

9. Throughout I use square brackets this article to frame the understood but unspoken ideas that complete Bamana phrases or sentences. implicitly


Cissoko, tape (98-54) translation of (98-54)

in Bamako.


RES 39 SPRING 2001


1 /' x /s

:< O
>5 <




X > /x-^O-J^--^ l::, ^/ ^ ^' \ /? . ~r < s >\-r. < > A-, <X



"v-y -

'".: ^\ fx

':.-i f v-yr ?.; f]

? '7x^0
? >y\-^ vxyN/v<

P :1/0 --:
O??T" << {* )-i, ( X)

~ ^ (
xy ~'-~~ (v

u-^s-bx^/ . \ X^v
xv \v'\V

^"x x-'' V\X




y. j ,

A. ^











In the past,





the Basiae





to wear


during their seven-week retreat period. When this ended, an excised girl gave it to her mother or another trusted female relative from her father's or mother's family. This elderly woman preserved the cloth and wore it until it fell into shreds. At this point, the female elder carefully buried itor wrapped it around a stone and threw it into a pond. The geometric pattern on the cloth has stayed almost the same from 1910 to the present; itsmotifs refer obliquely to success in childbearing and the protection of the bride's future children. Commissioned June 4, 1998, unused. Collection of S. Brett-Smith.


a beautifully made excision cloth from a neighboring village, exclaims, A mona, or "It is ripe," borrows the words used to describe a pot of rice whose the grains are full and ready to be eaten, whereas A banal describes the empty pot whose disappointed contents have been totally consumed.12 on seeing

Why are "ripe" or "full" cloths and sculptures (fig. 2) not "finished"? Such objects are not "finished" because, like physically mature human beings, the completion of is only the beginning of a long their carving or dyeing process the "empty" mask or textile through which acquires the spiritual charge or ny?ma that will allow these objects to intervene in human affairs.13 For the
13. The Bamana accumulate ny?ma think as that human beings, believe as well as objects, who lives


Interview with pp. 41-42.







they age. They

that anyone

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


Bamana or Malinke viewer this non-visible component is by far the most critical aspect of any sculpture or over its aesthetic textile, always taking precedence In the Mande world, the ny?ma of an object is power. measure of its importance, and when a dyer or the real carver begins the practical process of carving, or even dyeing, he or she must perform both ritual and technical actions that will impart an appropriate quotient of this elusive force to the product. Furthermore, creation, as the Bamana and Malinke understand is it, does not stop when the "full" object from maker to user, because successful and cloths stockpile ny?ma continuously sculptures the time when the tree is cut or the cloth is dipped transferred from

menstrual blood, one of the select female substances whose ny?ma surpasses that of a Komo boll, certainly has a benign aspect, because both men and women cannot bear children without that women acknowledge the "flowering" (fyere) of menstruation, and in the intimacy of an individual interview, women will explain that the careful preservation first menstrual of a woman's cloth enhances her fertility.16 Nevertheless, it is far more common released to overhear by accidentally a man recounting how the ny?ma hidden touching a carelessly

first dye bath, to the moment when the mask on a termite mound, or the worn rag is tied disintegrate around a stone and carefully thrown into a deep pond. It is this continuous intensification of ny?ma that unites we might wish to call 'making' and 'using' into what one continuous for the Bamana. process of production is this invisible force that constitutes the most of any art object? Charles Bird, a linguist important part with years of experience among the Bamana, calls "the energy of action," (1974:vii-ix; Bird and ny?ma notes 4-6), that is, the energy or Kendall 1980:16-17, What this enigmatic by any act. However, which lurks in every animate and inanimate power, object, usually has more negative than positive effects.14 For, while contact with a portable Komo altar, or Komo to become boll, can sometimes enable a sterile woman it is far more common for the ritual object's pregnant, intense ny?ma to inflict sterility as a punishment for tanaw or interdictions.15 Similarly, transgressing force released

in its is left to

artful, but my use of the phrase, such as menstrual cloths. The word sacred more here. boli can be used used

ritual objects,




as a general term that includes any for ritual purposes. it also has a much However, and it is in this sense that Iemploy the term specific meaning, Boliw are sculptural objects composed from a wide variety of object

animal or human placentas, birds' beaks, substances; heterogeneous white cloth, claws from various animals, wood, ritually significant and animal excretions. Their exterior surface is plants, bark, venom, with what looks like a deep, black putty and what is really a thick coating of dried sacrificial blood, millet porridge, and beer. The are those that have been collected as art in the West boliw best known covered inmuseums. in the form of and placed These are often shaped objects the Bamana and Minianka cows, humans, or spherical balls. However, some of in numerous manufacture boliw other non-specific shapes, and these boliw be as large In order note are without as a human to maintain or "refreshed" that certain Boliw may any noticeable sculptural presence. or small to put in one's pocket. enough being its nyam?, a boli must be continually with boliw sacrificial blood, may be immersed and therefore 'alive' and Dieterlen in a sacred and in pond and Ciss? the

"renewed" Ciss? order

them soaked (Dieterlen we see the boliw as inmuseums Although dry objects, Bamana conceive of them as basically wet; the multiple sacrifices made over them simply return them to their original or wet state. Boliw exist at many levels; the best known are those belonging 1972:254). male secret associations, there are also such as the Komo. These are

to keep


or into his seventies to mysterious sources of eighties must have access he could not have withstood the frequent assaults of power, otherwise sorcerers and lived this itself is taken as proof of long. Survival otherworldly 14. Some nyam? as powers. such as Bazin (1986:268-269) authors, an force, but this entirely negative The problem of dealing with ny?ma have viewed is not my is generally

public boliw. boliw and personal However, boliw; each family-owned a distinctive of these is made following recipe and each acts in a Recent French particular way and solves particular problems. researchers have defined the term boli as "altar." This is a useful term and perhaps the best English or French equivalent but, as possible, it does Jean Bazin points out (1986:254-255) imply that they are altars to In fact, they do not serve as points of contact with some something. exterior deity, but are nodes of spiritual force in and of themselves Ifone wishes to use Western rather 264-266). (ibid., pp. 257-259, than Bamana terms, they do not represent a deity, they in themselves are deities. Both my 1983 article on boliw and my previous book assume this ontological it. However, discussing the definition of a boli starting point as a given without explicitly this idea and takes apart Jean Bazin elaborates as an altar in his wonderful a few article. With


understanding. one needs a very to channel its power high level of expertise rather than a 'negative' direction: i.e., as a generative 'positive' than destructive force. 15. Throughout I use the term 'ritual object' this paper to what we consider to be 'art' and objects that are sacred Bamana and Malinke, as not recognize but that we would In practice, Iam often referring to the costumes, creations. boliw (see below), metal work, headdresses, the Komo association, textiles, and amulets that we do

that in a rather

to refer both for the artistic


masks, such as the flutes used recognize as


Iagree with Bazin's elucidation of the 6o//'s exceptions, identity. 16. Babilen Coulibaly as the of Mant? characterized menstruation "flowers" of a woman, interview with Babilen Coulibaly at of Mant? 5/31/98, French translation, pp. 11-12.



RES 39 SPRING 2001


cloth has noticeably reduced the mental or diminished in his success of an acquaintance acuity it is all too easy to unleash an object's the hunt.17 While it is far more consequences, ny?ma with devastating to channel the intensely powerful energy difficult ritual objects for positive purposes. To contained within a satisfactory outcome for the situation the achieve artifact is intended to remedy, both the makers and users such as a Komo boli or an excision of objects, cloth, must follow elaborate precautions and procedures. These are often so abstruse and so difficult to execute that it is only too easy to explain ex post facto why the it is easy for the has not worked. Thus, while "medicine" it is Bamana to explain the negative effects of ny?ma, difficult to obtain the procedures either the most banal description that intensify ny?ma, or any deeper are believed of why such procedures of

Komo masks, comments that carving a human figure is "hard" he is referring not just to aesthetic problems, but to the level of ny?ma involved, to the rule that he must remain sexually abstinent while carving and that he must, above all, refrain from working on the project when ismenstruating. the ritual his wife Furthermore, that worry him can occur both before and "difficulties" after an object has been transferred to its user, and this transfer is only a minor break in the continuous

trajectory of the object's ny?ma. it is these unseen Yet, for the Bamana and Malinke, but essential events, that ritual steps, these undeclared are the most critical aspect of the creative process. In the sculptor or dyer who seemingly 'makes' an reality, for the ongoing object has simply laid the groundwork of investing the sculpture or textile with power. process is essential, the object does this groundwork Although cannot really function as not truly come to maturity?it an active force in the universe of competing spiritual its user has continued the sculptor's or powers?until dyer's work continuous constitutes itwith ny?ma. It is the of endowing ritual "work" (baara) that trajectory of the essence of making among the Bamana.

to understanding results. achieve positive ease with which Common linguistic usage reveals the can be released to negative effect, as well as the ny?ma this unnerving force for positive difficulty of controlling a man confides to his best friend that purposes. When he has ceased touched ny?ma bora!/or come out!" And to have erections menstrual his wife's since he accidentally he may comment, translated, "The ny?ma has literally indeed, every action, no matter how cloth, "A

is said to "let loose" or "release" ny?ma (ka inadvertent, verb there is no comparable ny?ma b?). Significantly, the gradual increase of the with which one can describe creative ny?ma attached to a Komo boli or an excision cloth, once they are in use. verb used and understood The absence of any widely of ny?ma is important, for to describe the intensification free it reflects the fact that the actions that condense and localize it in ritual sculpture and floating energy textiles are not only secret but, in the words of the an "difficult."18 When expert sculptor Kojugu Cissoko, like Kojugu, who has made seven experienced sculptor

to artists like Kojugu, the technical If,according of carving a mask are not "difficult," what do problems the Bamana and Malinke consider to be the more serious that face the artist and the user of ritual challenges In fact, artists and ritual experts face two "medicines"? intractable problems: how to imbue an object with ny?ma in the process, and how, without harming themselves when the sacred object's ny?ma reaches an unbearably without incurring terrible high level, to destroy it is less difficult retribution. In a sense, the first problem a mask or excision than the second, for when endowing cloth one at least begins with an "empty" object, but deliberately destroying an aged mask imbued with blood and power is a dangerous is no guarantee as to what disaster enterprise, may not strike the ritual expert who ventures to dislodge habitat. the object from its accustomed to endow the rules that must be observed Although an object with power have obvious practical artists look forward to the months of difficulties?few demanded sexual abstinence by some commissions? artistic endeavor also exacts a far more devastating any generations of sacrificial since there price, a price that is all the more painful impossible to predict and yet expected.19
19. See Brett-Smith 1994:69-74, 231-232.

translation of interview with Sabani Cissoko, (98-3), cloth will p. 17. Sabani says that contact with a menstrual life span or a man's and that it can reduce a man's thoughts," make him impotent. his wife's menstrual If a man accidentally touches cloth, he can a formal reduce the harm that results by telling his wife and making 17. French 6/27/98, "trouble apology. menstrual If the woman cloth and hands the she must then wash the apology, accepts it out to dry in order to remove the smell spread same interview). (p. 18 of the 1994:231-233 encountered of the for a description in carving a human figure.

for being For there

of the man's 18. See numerous


ritual difficulties

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


of ny?ma, an economy actually exists an economy is always a tragic game with a zero sum as the which is gained when other things are lost, result. Ny?ma or destroyed. A sculptor famous for the life sacrificed, like quality of his hyena masks and their power to trances will have lost his two most inspire possession sons to tuberculosis and leprosy. A master intelligent mud cloth dyer like Nya Coulibaly, known far and wide of the Turusina pattern, is semi from birth and childless, a catastrophe for a paralyzed Bamana woman.20 Great artistry in every culture has often been associated with human loss, but among the Bamana and Malinke, the zero-sum equation holds for the clients who commission good objects as well as creators. The for the artists who are their more ostensible man who decides to start a local branch of the elderly Komo association knows, before he begins negotiations with a sculptor, that he will die shortly after acquiring the rituals, masks, and other objects necessary for this cult. In fact, if he does not die, thereby reducing the he has equation of ny?ma to zero, the Komo association founded will probably falter, since it has not received the necessary influx of power from the Like the man who acquires purchaser. sculptors too know the price they have skill and renown and often hesitate to commissions death of its the Komo, paid for their take on for her renditions

some of these other entities, ny?ma is all-pervasive, although most objects and situations generate only a negligible quotient of this force. However, significant quantities of ny?ma occur in natural substances, animals, and spontaneously events whose anomalous nature seems to challenge man's control of his environment. A kola nut made up of one red half and one white half (naminoro), a lizard ny?ma. Unlike who to live, menstrual loses his tail and continues and the body of a woman who has died in blood, childbirth are all ny?m?man or "filled with ny?ma" In all these cases, nature seems to varying degrees. transgress anomalies


the expected boundaries of life, creating of growth, death, and transformation. It is easy to understand how startling, natural can be perceived as charged with anomalies invisible but why do the abstruse rules followed by the power, men and women who create ritual sculpture or powerful sources of invisible force? I analogous that the actions and situations of use which suggest build up ny?ma throughout the life of an object are seen as an anomalous and threatening break in encompassing In a charged action or event two boundaries. accepted into transgressive substances, persons, or objects come textiles contact, producing ny?ma. By intentionally breaking normal rules and limits, ritual experts attempt to wrest control of ever-lurking ny?ma away from the their unusual actions are designed to place environment; this intangible force in their own hands and transfer it to objects they can direct. This process seems to occur in two stages. First, through a series of preliminary events, which often consist of refraining from 'normal' behavior (abstinence from sex is one of the most common practices to fall under this the amount of ny?ma he takes an action that and through the unexpected sometimes shocking physical contact of two normally separate entities, transfers a certain quotient of ny?ma to a ritual object. Frequently, this transfer involves a dangerous and anomalous contact with the human body, which acts rather like a lightning rod, receiving power and transferring it to the object it touches. Ihave proposed that the ideal body for the Elsewhere, Bamana is one that is totally shut and walled off.21 Any bodily opening, whether mouth, anus, or sex, is a increases Second, rubric), the ritual expert under his or her control. breaks a boundary, and, create

for fear of further exactions. this However, is frequently vague enough that it leaves foreknowledge the artist prey to constant anxiety, for the carver who to make a coveted object is never finally consents

the ny?ma of the project will entirely sure whether attack his favorite wife, son, or nephew. That someone will die, he knows, but who and how remains to be seen. In fact, this zero-sum game is in favor of weighted so intensely the spirit world, for some objects become destructive with time that they lose any positive powers and turn on their users. It is then they once possessed that one must embark on the dangerous enterprise of their 'lives' to a close. bringing Let us first examine how ny?ma is accumulated. For the Bamana ny?ma is primarily a naturally occurring is filled with a variety of invisible force. The universe or djinns, dwarves, powers: spirits ghosts, ancestors, and

20. Nya was Salimata's aunt. Although as a she was married her from having children. young girl, her disability prevented her extraordinary renditions of the Turusina mud cloth However, pattern were widely admired.


See Brett-Smith



RES 39 SPRING 2001

suspect, and at best, ambivalently regarded point of contact with the outside world. While the Bamana admit that bodily openings, including the skin and its pores, can open the self to the positive effects of medicinal herbs, delicious companionship, contamination in a traditional food, and the benefits of human they also live with a pervasive fear of via these same channels. No one can live

village for very long without being struck the surreptitiously mentioned but constant fears of by sorcery, and destruction poisoning, through sexual contact or feces.22 view of the human With this intensely ambivalent inmind, we can now look at some examples of body the ritual procedures that imbue art objects with ny?ma. Let us begin with sculpture, since it provides us with the set of ritual actions. This is partially least confusing explained by the fact that carving is universally as a particularly ny?m?-filled activity, and by recognized the fact that sculptors obey rules that are set apart from the rest of Bamana culture. Only those born into the

In the traditional world each carved object has its from not calling anyone by name while sanctions, carving "the little dog," to remaining sexually abstinent for the months itmay take to finish a human figure.24 These rules of restraint clearly build up ny?ma, but what are the actions that transfer it to the object carved? Blacksmith/carvers that all ritual carving and report many ritual actions must be carried out with the left, not the right hand.25 In using this hand to carve, the artist rule of Bamana conduct breaks a fundamental that the left hand for anything but sex and proscribes using the cleaning of the anus and genitals. Inwhat is for the Bamana a profound transgression of the normal, the own artist or ritual expert deliberately the "secret" employs hand in order to transfer the force compressed within his body to the object he is creating. Furthermore, numerous other rules for carving ritual objects, such as not speaking, eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating during the time one is carving the N'kds?n (possibly a Ci Wara) fit the paradigm of southern or Buguni-style the artist's own body intensifying spiritual force within and then transferring it to the artifact via an unusual and form of bodily contact.26 dangerous Let us now look at more ambiguous and yet more revealing examples of nyam?-imbued objects. The of textiles is a thornier problem than that of analysis at first glance, ritual sculpture, because, it is not at all

'caste' of sculptor/blacksmiths have access to the for creating sculpture, and, by necessary knowledge virtue of this restriction and the importance of carving, the rules that control the creation of ritual sculpture codified.23 have, at least to some extent, become

to note that Gosselin 22. In this context it is interesting (2000:210) with fistulas are almost universally reports that women rejected by their husbands and families. A fistula is an opening between the an vagina and rectum or the vagina and urethra that causes or urine (Gosselin 2000:214). leakage of either feces women are with this condition of a deep Presumably, rejected because is fear of contact with the feces of another person. The same condition uncontrollable also grounds for the rejection of women in the Zaria has been well documented 2000:103,107). 23. The Bamana in other African state of Nigeria cultures, (Mandara and

cannot Bamana

be overestimated. pottery.

It is blacksmith


and make

For an extensive


who perform excisions of the blacksmith's role in 1988. roles of

1994:34-43 and McNaughton culture, see Brett-Smith For the most comprehensive treatment of the history and social 'castes' see Conrad and Frank 1995. the various For a detailed of

into a divided themselves and Malinke traditionally or "races." which variety of inherited social categories, they called siyaw Freemen or "nobles" (horonw) farmed and made war, "slaves" or jonw were in raids or warfare and then set to usually freemen captured farming, repaired singers diverse saddles Bamana These charge (numuw) carved wood, forged and tools, and acted as surgeons and healers, praise agricultural a variety of historical epics and conserved (jeliw) memorized shoes, traditions, and leatherworkers (garankew) made amulets, blacksmith/sculptors for horses, and were still refer to all who artisans are believed that enables success who of ny?ma with in Islamic lore. The often knowledgeable are not freemen or slaves as nyamakalaw. to arrive in the world with an inherited them was to undertake incurring unprotected. their various the dangers Blacksmiths that would are

making 24.

and analysis of the rules that control the description see Brett-Smith 1994. ritual sculpture See Brett-Smith 1994:88 for the restrictions relating to carving to me It is unclear the "little dog," and pp. 231-233 for human figures.

he speaks of the "little exactly what sculpture Kojugu refers to when he does say that it is used by the Komo association. dog," although 25. See Brett-Smith note 53. 210, 296-297, 1994:127, 179-180, Diarra identified the left hand as "male" and the one used Ny?maton in sex in an interview on 4/15/84. this passage hand are provided as does hand in Brett-Smith The full English 1994:210, (1951:69). and Bamana 320, note 21. texts of

KojuguCissoko identified the right hand as "male" and the left

as "female" Dieterlen differ on which is labeled "male" My and which sources seemed to "female," but all the left hand and that

occupations inevitably

and without

strike someone

to be among of all the nyamakalaw, the most powerful acknowledged both as carvers, ritual specialists, and surgeons and their importance,

is always used for activities. ordinary statement 26. For the English text of Kojugu's about the N'koson see Brett-Smith text see p. 328, note 96. 1994:227. For the Bamana

with agree that ritual actions must be performed the left hand must be used for sex. The right hand

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


Map of Mali showing Bamana area and the location of Kolokani and the Beledugu. The Fadugu, a traditional political unit of allied villages, lies some distance north of Kolokani. Courtesy of Claudine Vansina.

textiles, if any, are imbued with power, and how they come to possess it.Although there were many different textiles available in the pre-colonial Bamana this analysis will focus on the mud-dyed excision world, cloths traditionally worn throughout the Beledugu and after excision, Segu regions by farming women the belief system and marriage, and childbirth.27 While clear which
were in stating that, prior and women unanimous of commercially cloth, each Bamana and produced Malinke group had its own particular style region and each endogamous of women's dress. The data presented here will be drawn from interviews 27. Bamana men to the introduction in the Beledugu, partly intensive research, and partly because traditional beliefs about the wearing in of cloth have persisted this region more than in others. Within the Fadugu section of the because (see map), Beledugu Bamana women might that these textiles were both men report that in traditional times own very few one or two?and cloths?perhaps the endogamous inevitably mud cloth. Among and women about mud cloth or bog?lanfini carried out this has been the area of my most

I will discuss apply unequivocally to pre practices and to some extent, pre-lndependence colonial, times, in the Beledugu they persist today, and it is possible to

cloth, dyed and wore adopt imported Western indigo (interview with of French translation ). 6/27/98, Yayiri Coulibaly, pp. 40-41 Guegouan, have a wide variety of choice in Today, both young and old women women cloth, although wealthier living in towns and cities have access to the greatest number of cloths and dress styles. Since possible all women's dress has been profoundly influenced by colonization, norms and, within Western the last twenty years, by Islamic custom. This woven article will not discuss whether and printed cotton commercially inAfrica (bag! finin), or imported Islamic items, such as the cloth made are imbued with spiritual power, prayer shawls worn by older women, this is an interesting problem, and I suspect that a great many although beliefs The about reader traditional should cloths note are carried over to these textiles. that throughout did not wear mud the Kita and Kangaba cloth wrappers after to

artisan groups (nyamakalaw) found in the Beledugu, only blacksmith women from the Balo and Fane families wore mud (numuw musow) of the cloth, either patterned or dyed solid black. Blacksmith women as bulaw families (characterized and Bagoyogo Cissoko, Diabate by Yayiri see Brett-Smith of Guegouan; 1994:40-42) Coulibaly dyed and wore from leatherworking families (garankew musow) avoided indigo. Women mud cloth and wore identity. A neighboring cloth (gala fini) as a mark indigo-dyed ethnic group, the Marka, who were of their the first to

women regions Malinke excision. excision Malinke rituals were very similar However, the wrappers and ones, and, as in the Beledugu, Beledugu undergarments tools to predict worn a

were used as divinatory by newly excised women in childbearing. The Malinke did not girl's success fura ci, an ensemble of rituals that traditionally fused excision practice and marriage in the ceremonies rather the Malinke Beledugu; retreat and its rituals from the actual marriage the excision separated or ceremonies and konyo, but their ritual use of both excision menstrual cloths closely paralleled Beledugu practice.


RES 39 SPRING 2001

a large part of the earlier beliefs about dress from the recollections of older men and women. reconstruct

that excision acknowledge

The first thing Ishould state is that in the traditional

not all cloths inevitably possess a high, or worldview even a noticeable, It is quite common valence of ny?ma. to look down at the cloth she for even an elderly woman iswearing and say, "Nyam? t'a la/ or "This has no indicates that it ismore ny?ma." Yet, futher exploration accurate to interpret this statement as "This cloth has no to ny?ma," for ifone were surreptitiously exceptional off a small patch from the edge of the wrapper, one clip would means risk being accused of sorcery. What an elder she says "Ny?ma fa la" is that this cloth when has no unusual ny?ma, apart from that which any textile absorbs by being worn. To understand

opportunity to harm the young girls through sorcery, perhaps by with the healing process, or by inspiring interfering In response to both the physical and unusual protests.29 a of the operation, spiritual dangers girl's mother or her one of two mud cloths, fiance's family will commission either the Basiae or the N'Gale (fig. 3), for the young woman so as to protect her after the surgery. the excision and applying Immediately after performing herbal medicines, the female surgeon attaches the cloth around the young woman, both as clothing and as spiritual protection.30

is "good for women," but they also that this critical rite of passage gives ample for "ill-intentioned people" (mogow juguw)

both this random, everyday accruing of ny?ma and the more explicit attribution of higher let us look at one of valences of power to ritual textiles, the two cloths currently used after excision, the Basiae is highly 2). The Bamana believe that a used Basiae (fig. with ny?ma, and the details of this cloth's charged in and use reveal much about the ways production ritual objects gain and lose their charge of power. which Even today excision is a normal rite of passage for a Bamana woman, and most men and women believe that the surgery and of the formation
28. Basiae

a blacksmith woman 29. Sokona Danba, from Shuala north of Segu "A b? ny?ma b?, bolok?li said the following, ka nyi, a ka nyi muso ma or "Excision it is good, it is very good for releases the ny?ma, kojugu/ a woman." Interview with Sokona Danba, 8/28/79, p. 116 of transcribed 30. N'Gale tapes from 1979. Salimata Kone and other and Basiae Kone cloths used Bamana women referred to the always in the fura ci, the Beledugu marriage rather than marriage wrappers. which does not look at all like the

and excision Salimata Basiae

ritual, as excision identified a design,

its rituals make an essential contribution of a girl's character.28 The Bamana say
discussion used of the excision in them an excellent rituals and 1982. of the overview the

and (furu siri Basiae), here, as the "marriage Basiae" published said that in the past some girls wore this wrapper rather than their excision cloth when for they traveled to their husband's compound Iplan to publish their marriage in my this Basiae variant night. book. Both Salimata and all my other female sources forthcoming in her excision cloth spoke as though an excised girl were wrapped after the surgery. immediately On 12/12/2000 woman, Mr. Adama Fatoumata Mara interviewed blacksmith Bagayogho, in the past the female her a seventy from Kolokani blacksmith in either year old in the

For an extended and N'Gale cloths

see Brett-Smith

Gosselin prevalence contemporary interviewed excised. Health


of clitoridectomy Mali. Of the 223 women

gives and other

in surgery genital she and her assistant


214 (nearly 94 percent) in 1997-1998, said that they were notes that in 1996 a national Demographic and

Survey reported that 94 percent of the 9,704 women surveyed the ages of fifteen and forty-nine) (between throughout Mali said that was the most common genital they were excised. Clitoridectomy

In the past the excision surgery took place at daybreak and the girl faced the east as she was always This was so that she might absorb the earliest rays of the wrapped. of creative sun, a light emblematic rising activity. The surgeon also a folded on the young woman's head and plain white wrapper placed or neck while around either the girl's hips string with one cowrie to Fatoumata, incantations. the older saying According custom was to tie the cotton the girl's hips. In separate string around -interviews on 12/13/2000 and 12/11/2000 three other Beledugu were Bamana women confirmed that excision attached wrappers cotton immediately after the excision surgery. One of these women, of a female surgeon. Mr. Mara Djuma reported tied a white

She reported that Beledugu. a who excised girl immediately wrapped Basiae cloth while incantations. saying

surgeon or the N'Gale

(defined here as ablation of the surgery (52 percent) with excision not far behind clitoris and labia minora) (47 percent). I two young women In 1978 who were about worked with or retreat period. seventeen years old in their post-excision eighteen This seems to have been the traditional colonization However, performed. has steadily dropped, and woman to call a blacksmith five years During a Bamana interviewed since age at which the average the surgery was age of excision

in Bamako, it is quite common for parents a newly born daughter. in to excise inMali I never met or of extended fieldwork or Malinke woman who had not been excised. was

Kone, was the granddaughter this data to me on 12/15/2000. In her dissertation Short saw events.

to be a strong possibility In fact, there seemed that the practice to other ethnic groups. actually spreading recent research on the cultural and medical For the most of excision implications Duncan and Hernlund in a wide 2000. variety of African cultures

a different of Julianne Short describes sequence two girls (one about 13 or 14 years old and th? other in early female surgeon about 8 or 9 years old) excised by a traditional October these excisions 167-177). (Short 1996:161-162, However, seem to have been separated from the remainder of the fura ci rituals. on University The copy of Short's dissertation available Microfilms were in their ritual does not say whether the young women wrapped

see Shell

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?

11 3

are the steps that imbue the Basiae with on the increasing ny?ma and how do they shed light more general problem of imbuing objects with ny?ma*. Let us first look at how the dyeing process imparts what one might call a base-line level of power to any Basiae What

or N'Gale. All mud cloths are created by painting a viscous mud dye, somewhat like thin oil paint, onto a dried cotton cloth that has previously been immersed in a leaf solution. While each dyer has her yellow/green own recipes for both mud dye and leaf solutions, three used in the preliminary dye plants are commonly and N'Galaman.3^ Cengura, Wolo, Technically, in solutions of these leaves allows a mud cloth dipping it is dry, and, using a small artist to take the cloth, once iron tool with a triangular end (tama biy?n) apply fermented mud in discrete areas with clear the artist has finished applying the boundaries.32 Once process,


charge the fura ci ceremonies it clear that in the fura ci celebrations

or whether in the women after the operation, immediately to use the ritual cloths until the rest of of the excision waited makes be performed. Short's dissertation and perhaps even earlier, a young woman's or even years after her might occur months because families are now so poor that they many could 1990s the grain and animals necessary a four day fura ci celebration she witnessed the excision) for the ritual. in a small

excision, physical have difficulty finding Short does describe (not in Kolokani where of the dry season. On

girls had sheet by an older woman. After this, the initiates and the older women into the bush. There went beyond the edge of the village a little way initiate as she came the older women formed a circle shielding each

village during the middle the first day of the fura ci Short reports how the in a then washed and wrapped their hair braided and were

and car adds lines

that "on reconna?t les couleurs that these

which she had been inside the circle and took off the sheet in
woman A blacksmith wrapped. of the two ritual mud cloths or ritual cloth before initiate in one then wrapped the naked in a plain cloth. She held the indigo four times and took it back four times

runs naked towards girl is finished, the operation the girl's 'mother' envelops her in a large white the sheet, places on her own back, and then carries her young woman piggyback to the hut where all the excised daughter girls will sleep. Henry does reports Henry to be excised. that each After uses to wrap her the white sheet the mother whether is replaced by the Basiae or N'Gale, but his photographs of daughter "excis?es" show two young girls wearing these cloths, that suggesting in his time they were In used after as well as before the operation. wear white addition the young women and carry the headscarves as poles Short describes being used after the fini ta ceremony. to Henry's description, the girls go directly from the According into the retreat period. excision surgery on excision I have worked and the cloths associated Although not mention

(probably not name them). Abb? woman the blacksmith

race de chacune et sa caste aussi, gr?ce ? lui la on le voit!" In a note he il a son importance, diff?rent, cloths are black and yellow with designs of circles and Basiae and the N'Gale the excision he does although

up to the initiate the girl's waist and did the same with a white tying it around their cloths were used as a headscarf. When tied, the young wrapper into adult walked back to the village having been transformed girls women. and

Short reports that this portion of the fura ci is the most sacred incantations secret, that important (klissiw) are said at this time, fini ta or "taking the cloth." and that it is called and I Short's description of this ritual is extremely would valuable, agree

is deeply that the wrapping but my ceremony significant, term to of the phrase fini ta is that it is used as a general understanding the entire process of the fura ci. Saying, A ye fini ta, or "she designate or "she was is a more polite way of saying, A bolokora, took the cloth" one as having excised." this circumlocution identifies oneself By using The fini tawas never identified as a specific episode of good manners. the fura ci ceremonies either by Salimata or my other female sources or sources. by Mr. Mara's much a more level, it seems as though Short's sources placed general on the of the fura ci as a marriage greater emphasis significance two young Iobserved ritual than Salimata Kone did in 1978, when On under her care in emphasis which may Islamic marriage in the post-excision surgery result from increasing Islamization ritual called retreat. This change and the influence


it for many years, I have not been able to see the surgery or performed to follow all the steps of the fura ci ceremonies it. that follow 31. A detailed of the dyeing and painting process will discussion in Chapters Two and Three of my forthcoming be given book, Bamana Mud Cloths: A Female Language of Power. For further information on the plant implicit most identifications in the mud of the ny?ma given here and a discussion see Chapter Two of this book. father and linguist who has produced the Bamana-French identifies (1996:453), complete dictionary as Combretum bilen or "red c?ng?r?" (comb) glutinosum dye the Catholic coriace and je as C. Collinum geitonophyllum (comb). Thoyer-Rozat lamprocarpum as 130, 180, 182) identifies the Cengura the c?ng?r? identifies 180) the Wolo identifies as Terminalia the wolo sp. (comb). as Terminalia

Bailleul, recent


the c?ng?r? or kinkeliba (comb)

plus C. Collinum

of a largely has gained years

(the konyo the bride region). The ritual of konyo secludes one week and focuses on their union, whereas highlighted physical individuality, of the recently excised girl. the courage,

konyo or the "wedding" in the Beledugu within the last twenty prominence were not traditionally ceremonies in this practiced and groom together for the traditional fura ci and reproductive

(1986:111-112, 114, Combretum glutinosum. Bailleul (1996:463) Thoyer-Rozat macroptera. Bailleul (1986:113, (1996:459)

potential In 1910, Abb? noted very

in the Segu region, father working Henry, a Catholic a sequence of events before and after the excision surgery just similar to that which has been reported to me and Mr. Mara 1910:175-198). the girls wear Henry wrappers, says that on the night before an are the gifts of their fianc?s which

as Anogeissus identifies the Nkalama leiocarpus. as (1986:72-74, 178, 181) identifies the Galaman uses for it. leiocarpus and gives varying medical Anogeissus 32. This tool can also be called tamani, biy?n tamani, finin ci kala, or finin notes on interviews with Salimata Kone, ny?g?n biy?n. Written Thoyer-Rozat Kolokani, Kolokani, 2/9/77 5/31/77. and 9/22/79 and interview with Tenen Traore,

(Henry excision


RES 39 SPRING 2001

Figure 3. N'Gale excision cloth, also called Sum suruni. The N'Gale design of horizontal lines is probably the oldest mud-cloth pattern still in existence. It is unclear why the cloth is called N'Gale, but the name Suru suruni refers to the advice that is often given to a young bride that she "become close to her husband," "e ka surun e ce ma." The advice suggests that it is by being close to one's husband that one will obtain influence and success in life. The straight lines that follow each other so closely across the cloth are implicitly compared to the closeness that is desired inmarriage. Commissioned on June 4, 1998, unused. Collection of S.

mud dye to these areas, the cloth is dried and then to reveal a light yellow pattern. The yellow washed to create cream-colored is then bleached pattern designs that emerge from a dark ground.33 Excision cloths are differentiated from everyday or cloths their designs which "white" mud (kanjida) by the rust-red color of is achieved by adding twigs from the

N'Golobe shrub to the preliminary dye cotton wrapper is immersed.34 Bamana the conflicting opinions about whether with and leaves are especially charged

inwhich a dyers have N'Golobe twigs In 1978, ny?ma. bath

34. Bailleul Thoyer-Rozat Combretum


the kol?be 122, 178,

as Combretum 182) identifies

micranthrum. the N'Golobe as

(1986:118, micanthrum.

33. The entire produce

process may be repeated two or three times to a cloth with a strong contrast between the light and dark areas.

so little N'Golobe to their original leaf Today many dyers add "red" or ritual between solutions that it is hard to detect any difference cloths and "white" cloths. However, examples of Basiae and N'Galew

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?

11 5

the great mud cloth artist Salimata Kone stated that the leaf of the N'Golobe that the plant is a basi, meaning leaf itself is the medicine that charges the cloths dyed in itwith power.35 In addition to Salimata, a male healer, is Diarra, reported that the N'Golobe Negetena was or filled with ny?ma, and said that it ny?maman to wash in a protective solution made by advisable

N'Golobe leaf as charged with ny?ma or not, all Bamana women "red" color of the agree that the distinctive N'Gale and Basiae cloths is a protection against outside attack and sorcery, and that it inspires a young woman's fear. Sorcerers and potential enemies with paralyzing are believed to be "red" themselves, and these spirits are said to recognize those wearing red and fear beings them. In addition to terrifying sorcerers, the deep red/black color of the traditional Basiaew and N'Galew also frightens men. The old-fashioned red/black color is in a such a powerful signal that a woman is participating event and is off-limits to men, that even nyam?-charged the most modern young man hesitates to approach his fianc? if she wears a sombre brown or rust colored Basiae.38 In the past when darker Basiaew were worn, men of all ages religiously avoided recently excised but the strictness with which this rule is young women, declined. As long observed seems to have continuously ago as 1978, the fianc?s of the two excised girls in Salimata's charge were able to pay her small fines in order to visit their future wives.39 The girls looked which were only forward to these intimate conversations, wore relatively light rust colored because possible they N'Galew reluctant encode are even more cloths. Today's young women to wear the intensely red/black cloths that a powerful message of avoidance and fear.

boiling the leavesof the kunj? plant before picking the

shrub.36 However other Bamana with a different cast of mind report that it is the visual shock of the red color itself, not the ny?ma of the N'Golobe plant, that strikes fear into the viewer.37 No matter whether they view the


in the past. Dyers in larger villages the explain excision cloths by the fact that today's gradual lightening refuse to wear the deep red/black textiles, because young women they is them as both terrifyingly powerful and old fashioned. There regard of most also some My make "red" or ritual cloths Kone. add is ugly. that the intense rust color implication as the critical plant of the N'Golobe identification rests on my term work long that other dyers have different with used to

turned out villages in color, indicating been much darker

from conservative, elderly dyers in remote Beledugu to be such a dark rust that they were almost black tint of these ritual cloths must have that the original


It is very possible plants that they to their dyes in order to produce the deep rust color of ritual cloths. notes on interview with Salimata Kone, Duguba, 35. Written so much in even the 'traditional' 5/17/78. Today there has been change system that itmay be impossible 36. The N'Golobe is picked, dried, restorative drunk to corroborate and sold this information. markets as a inweekly


type of all purpose and its tea iswidely to it. Probably only recommended Bailleul Thoyer-Rozat senegalensis. 37. Tenen Tenen:

tea. The N'Golobe

users who attribute by a few users are aware of the precautions

iswell known plant a variety of powers

its members often against djinns and sorcerors. The Cebilenke the Do, such as the appearance with of perform at events unconnected a well in order to earn gifts which Cheron like the Daba, known mask protects

by Negetena. identifies (1996:457) (1996:83-85, Traore said 178,

who then distributes them. (1931:283) notes they give to their leader
the kunje as Guiera senegalensis. 182) identifies the kung? as Guiera Currently, Cebilenke; the Komo Kassim Kone is the scholar who he states knows in his dissertation that the Do the most ismore about feared the than

the following. has no part in it; it is the dye alone which you seen the reddish color of the frightens people; . . .Haven't are red . . . inwhich Cebilenke you seen the way they as soon as children see them, don't you understand Then, how, they are frightened? In this passage Tenen refers to the costume of the Cebi lenke Nn, nn?The ny?ma haven't masquerader, a distinctive rust-colored cotton suit that covers a man's sides "red" on the face and is decorated hands, feet, and arms and which with b?g?lanfini patterns. The harsh, acid tone of the costume's refers. grates on the eye, and it is this effect to which Tenen The Cebilenke costume is difficult on behalf in some

that I also received) and that the Cebilenke (an impression communicate masqueraders by hitting the short sticks which they I watched Cebilenke always carry together. When masqueraders it quickly became for the Daba, evident that the horns the perform in their hands were carried foci of intense ritual power masqueraders and that their sticks were also sacred, modern 200-201) Julianne Short (1996:193, reports that even during fura ci ceremonies, which have often been separated from the or years, the young women are excision surgery and put off for months 38. not permitted to have sexual contact with their fianc?s and husbands the girls may have been their partners and may (although living with have born children to see by them). In fact, the men are forbidden their fianc?es the first week of the girls' retreat (or wives) during Short explains that during this period the sight of the excision period. to the young women's is dangerous cloth future husbands who will become is cloth very tired if they see it. After seven days the excision washed 39. Many sexual mores, a Basiae. to be a for the first time, and ceases to the men. danger different male elders stated that prior to changes in a man would have feared to go near a woman wearing

masquerader performs the Do, which is found women and children are the focus Cebilenke

to since the investigate, of a highly secret male association,

villages. Paradoxically, Beledugu are permitted to watch Cebilenke dances which

of great interest. Cheron (1931:282) reports that are found dancers the Cercle of Kita as well as throughout in the Beledugu. He says that the Do association to have is supposed been given to man by the dwarfs who inhabit the bush and that it


RES 39 SPRING 2001

imbues the rust color of traditionally fabricated and N'Galew with so much power and prepares them to become objects that emanate ny?ma*. the First of all, there is an obvious visual link between dark brown/red color of old fashioned "red" cloths and the reddish brown of dried blood. Second, the name What Basiaew and suggests a reflects this association, train of thought that may lead to a deeper parallel inwhich excision cloths are of the way understanding focus on filled with ny?ma. Female dyers, who generally on its the practical tasks of painting mud cloth, not Basiae both do not interpret the name Basiae, simply Basiae is that it is a name. However, repeating close to basi, a word that the linguist, Father remarkably Bamana in the most recent complete Bailleul, defines 'meanings,' dictionary "dirty yellow color, brown," and In addition, Bailleul lists basi "blood" (Bailleul 1996:27). for a second time (in a new listing with the same poison" (ibid.).40 The spelling) as "f?tiche, medicine, in name Basiae (spelled basiya or basi la) appears cloth" (ibid., p. 28). Clearly, the the rust color of the Basiae and visual is reflected in Bamana speech. However, what blood or "poison," unites a Basiae with a "f?tiche, medicine," is less obvious. a painted the intuitive link between To understand Basiae and Bailleurs definition of basi as "medicine" or Bailleul link between "poison" one must realize that the Bamana and like many other African peoples, view the Malinke, female sex as a sacred object.41 Unlike the altars, masks, ritual objects (basiw) of men, and personally owned created step by step, the which must be painstakingly female sex occurs naturally. Yet, so great is the power of this icon that traditional sexual rules forbid a man to look at it on pain of losing his eyesight or incurring as "excision as both

untreatable tuberculosis (Brett-Smith 1994:208-209), can void and too close a contact with even one woman the most feared Komo mask or altar of any power. For, are viewed not just as in the Bamana world, women but as incalculable beings loving sisters and mothers, hold a devastating weapon, their sex, who perpetually in temporary abeyance (Brett-Smith 1982:27). A sex is, in fact, a "f?tiche," a "medicine," and woman's even a "poison," in Bailleul's words, and it is sometimes the surgery of excision that releases enough of the ny?ma inherent in this potent object that a man can safely have sex with an excised woman.42 Whenever excision, ny?ma" one asks Bamana women to discuss that it "releases the they always explain (ka ny?ma bo), and it is easy to understand


42. Gosselin explained woman's

woman blacksmith 199) reports that a Bamana (2000, a excision that without the need for excision by observing

sex possesses too much ny?ma for a man to be able to have cites a myth told to her by the with her. Gosselin woman in these terms: the origin of excision that explains blacksmith intercourse husband that he

her "In the past there was a woman with a lot of ny?ma. When see out to touch her, he would wanted light like fire coming sex. So he couldn't her so badly take her but he wanted of his wife's lost weight." sex that the woman's The myth then recounts how a slave discovers illness and tells the elders. The is the source of the husband's apparent to her family and instruct them to take her to elders return the woman the ancestor woman's catch have on clitoris cuts out Dufalo's wife, Mariam, of the smiths, Dufalo. it away, only to have it spontaneously and throws returns to her husband, who is able fire. Then the woman her. Balo, about 70 years old and woman, her mother and grand told us that, although not to do them because, she had chosen excisions, a blacksmith the to

sex with to Basi

43. Tlasun married mother


someone suffer." Instead, she had made seeing we asked Tlasun why she didn't suffer from the ny?ma When pottery. she said of her family who did excise, released by the other members that, indeed, she had suffered from this ny?ma and that her eyes were affected by two illnesses, kurusa kurusa (a skin infection) and nko bon Interview with Tlasun Balo, trachoma). (loss of the eye lashes, possibly (98-30), 6/22/98, Bamako, pp. 33-4 of French translation. in a highly traditional village, Araba Another very aged woman a blacksmith woman who Kone, told us the following regarding a bad tere (one of the intrinsic parts of the girl with the negative "if you excise her [the one with tere] and personality): will be bad for you; you will die." doesn't die, the consequences excised a Interview with French either Araba translation. Kone, Guegouan, The Bamana believe (98-34), 6/27/98, that each person she

performed bear "she couldn't

40. basi

Bazin gave as "arbrisseau In a separate

approximately une donnant definition rem?de

the same teinture he says



first defines

brune." "rem?de, the word 41. ways

superstitieux" grisgris, Basiae as "bitterness." See Brett-Smith 1994:208-209 and Malinke

brune," and then as "couleur that basi means "sang" or He defines (Bazin 1906:59). of the similar

for a discussion handle

ritual the sight of male In 1998, Tene Konare and the female sex by men. by women objects as follows. Mr. Mara: Unhun! Then the to our questions responded It is the to women is a person? Tene: Yes indeed! 'Komo' belonging [i.e., the (sex) of the girls who are about to be excised nyabila female unexcised sex]. Mr. Mara: The sex? Tene: Yes! Interview with Tene Konare, 7/15/98, (98-51), pp. 9-10 of French inwhich the Bamana translation.

pp. 27-8 of is born with

or bad tere and that the tere manifests a itself in certain good a 90 features (such as a chin set at approximately degree physical on the neck in the case of women), and by a person's ability to angle with a bad tere is luck to others. A woman communicate bad or good said to cause husband after husband to die of mysterious causes.

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?

11 7

act that removes, or more genital surgery as a one-time this powerful force along with the diminishes, accurately removal of the clitoris. But where does this released ny?ma go? To some extent, the Bamana believe that it "attacks" or falls back on the female blacksmith who in old age and performs the excision, causing blindness in some cases even killing the surgeon.43 However, the force released by excision does not only fall on the in traditional surgeon. Other older women participate the ritual, bringing the girl to the operating area, seating her, and holding her during the surgery.44 Excision is an on younger women, act performed by older women and it is the grandmothers of the young who hold to it so and mastermind its enactment.45 tenaciously Furthermore, although the surgeon disposes of the clitorises she has removed by turning each girl's over to her mother and thus presumably evades some of their considerable blood may still be shed. When ny?ma, asked about medicines for circumcision and excision, both male and female elders immediately mentioned the of recipes for arresting hemorrhages, how important it is to control the flow of suggesting are blood after the operation. While special medicines seem that for unusual cases, itwould necessary a girl whose surgery has proceeded wrapping normally importance

or N'Gale cloth immediately after the also forms part of the armory of traditional operation that help to staunch the blood and capture "medicines" the ny?ma released by the operation.46 It is at this moment, when the blacksmith wraps the unused Basiae or N'Gale around excised girl while surgeon the newly that the most

in either a Basiae

uttering incantations, significant phase in the production of the cloth begins for It is the blood from the excision surgery, the Bamana. with some of the uncanny power of the removed charged clitoris that transfers an intense quotient of ny?ma to a new excision cloth. In fact, the ny?ma of a used Basiae is so powerful that a jealous woman who steals even tiny shred of the textile can use it to perform ritual "work" it (baara) that will render the young girl who wore

sterile.47 For this reason, the used ritual cloth is always handed over to a trusted elderly woman with strong links to the girl's natal family after the retreat period ends. Later I will discuss how this elder guards the cloth and presides over the gradual lowering of its ny?ma, but for the moment, let us look more closely at the transfer of ny?ma from the young girl to the cloth. The operation is intended to "remove ny?ma" from the of excision to lower her sex's level of power enough young woman, that productive, childbearing Why do excision cloths work intercourse is possible. as tools for accomplishing


. . .The the following. Salimata: person the excision, when the moment of surgery holds the girl?we arrives, say that the ny?ma goes onto her. This one too [in addition woman to the blacksmith who .... the surgery] will seek medicines to wash herself with performs Interview with Salimata Kone, 4/20/84, Grossesse 2, Book 2, p. 22 44. Salimata Kone said is going to perform the person who tapes. who

46. or Basiae

In the Beledugu

depending was traditionally in the Kita area, the girl entirely black with locally grown indigo. Tlasun

region on which

a Bamana her mother

wears either the N'Gale girl wore. Among the Malinke with a cloth dyed wrapped

medicine "segen millet."

of transcribed

a girl into the excision area and The woman accompanies the girl's helps to hold her is called her "mother," but is usually a Bamana mother mother's co-wife. did not raise her own Traditionally, or co-wives but those of her co-wife (Brett-Smith 1982:25). children, The husband each child to a non-genetic in order to 'mother' assigned children of different co-wives rivalry between (fadenya). to say, this strategy was notable Needless for its failures, and examples of fadenya are crucial in Bamana and Mande oral story elements history. All my female a child bear to watch sources indicated that no 'real' mother The could to hear she has born excision. true mother area reduce

told us that the blacksmith woman, Balo, a Malinke used for washing the wounds of excision was made with that grows under (unidentified plant, see Bazin 1906:521) This is boiled and the liquid poured over the wound when

the the

After this, congealed shea oil is put on carded cotton girl washes. is then placed on the wound. which Interview with Tlasun Balo, (98 mentioned 30) 6/22/98, p. 65 of French translation. Other women other medicines, and it is likely that each blacksmith surgeon and each elderly woman the recovering (zeman) who supervises girls has her own special medicine. 47. Similarly, Sabani told us that, among the Malinke, ritual "work" the lenpen performed with excision cloth can prevent hand sex. in marriage and Interview with Sabani translation. or worn beneath the undergarment any man from asking a young woman's to have seal up her vagina so that she is unable Cissoko, (98-3), 6/27/98, pp. 37-8 of

of the girl to be excised waited the results of the surgery. 45. women's women. women's daughters persist Short

undergo out of sight of the excision

has an interesting discussion (1996:169-172) emotional in the excision investment and fidelity

of senior



of young also addresses the issue of older (2000:300-301) in the excision of their daughters involvement and grand and describes how a positive can attitude towards excision modernization.

Sabani: She won't marry. No man will ask for her inmarriage. she will not have sex with any man. Mr. Mara: Unhun! Similarly, sex. Sabani: This "work" results in the disappearance of the woman's sex to have sex with her, such a woman's Each time a man wants disappears completely. Her vaginal opening closes up completely.



RES 39 SPRING 2001

this purpose?

finished Basiaew cloths dyed the black/red color are so impregnated with deep dye that the cloth can actually be stiff, almost like a and it is often impossible to pliable piece of cardboard, see the tiny holes in the traditional weave ifone holds to the light. This transformation of pliable the cloth up traditional sheet with all its rigid, protective 'pores' filled with dye creates a screen on which dried is hardly noticeable and enables blood the cloth to fulfill its camouflaging function. What are the conceptual implications of the Basiae's cloth Ipropose that the Basiae's ability to absorptive capacity? is critical, not from the outside absorb liquid substances to its role as an excision but also for a deep cloth, only is created, and of how sacred sculpture understanding must obey so many, seemingly why blacksmith/sculptors ritual rules in order to invest these products nonsensical, with ny?ma. is a The evidence for the idea that absorption to understanding fundamental the artmaking process key comes, not only from among the Bamana and Malinke but also from the Basiae and N'Gale excision wrappers, the plain white cloth or faded rags that are used as menstrual framework, cloths, objects that, in aWestern cannot be considered 'art.'48 Yet, they are crucial, for in the Bamana world they are the only objects imbued with greater ny?ma than ritual sculpture, and by looking at the use of these cloths and the beliefs associated with them, we can glimpse some of the fundamental thought that lie behind both the creation of the Basiae processes and the production sources, both male of sculpture. All my Bamana and female, agreed that menstrual cloth has enough ny?ma to render the most powerful /Corno mask void of power, should the two ever come into contact; such a cloth is, ritually speaking, more inmany African 'art' objects are almost never seen, but the dominates These cloths aware of into a more

enigmatic absorb and camouflage excision. Significantly,

Ipropose designs work

that these "red" cloths with primarily the nya/rc?-laden because they both blood of


In fact, if they insistently, because they live with women. wish to have children, men must come dangerously menses close to women's and their menstrual cloths. man grows up that women stretch their Every knowing washed menstrual cloths over their bamboo sleeping in secret.50 frames in order to dry these potent objects Every man likewise knows that touching a menstrual cloth, no matter how inadvertently, will bring a host of to have sex with his ills upon him, and yet if he wishes wife, he must trust that she has removed this feared tool of ritual work from the bed he shares with her.51 Most male rules of female avoidance, including the sexual that dominates the carving of sculpture, are, abstinence at their most basic, avoidances of even the remotest of contact with menstrual blood. possibility

is this cloth so powerful that women Why cling to it is the mysterious with great ferocity? Why disappearance of one's menstrual cloth grounds for a traditional legal case and accusations of sorcery against one's co-wives or inlaws? Women believe that the cloth used at their is the guarantee of their fertility; if this first menstruation is believed cloth is carelessly thrown away its absence to render its "owner" permanently if sterile.52 Likewise, obtains it to destroy a piece of this cloth, she can easily her rival. In the words of Sabani Cissoko: use

a woman


some of the most remark that, "Not surprisingly, MacGaffey's are rarely seen by anybody," art objects 1993:56). (Nooter respected a of how secrecy affects the She also provides perceptive description of viewing 'art' in many African the aesthetic cultures, mentioning never be seen that many, particularly requirement meaningful objects stretch their washed reported that women frames so that these potent under their sleeping She said that women do this in order to keep their textiles dry unseen. Interview with Sabani Cissoko, "secret." (98-3), 6/27/98, p. 18 of French translation. cloths out Sabani: them out Once we have washed the mattress underneath them [menstrual cloths], we spread to dry them. The air reaches them Mr. Mara: Why do you do this? (Nooter 1993:66-67). 50. Sabani Cissoko


than the mask. powerful Like the most powerful cloths cultures, menstrual

there. It ismore discrete this way. our secret. It is to preserve Sabani: Why? Mr. Mara: Yes! Sabani: 51. Sabani Cissoko said that if a woman the drying or dried places her husband cloth under the end of the bed frame where menstrual if she hides his head, he "will not have a long life." However, in terms of the number his feet, "he will be prosperous," either wealth. Interview with Sabani Cissoko, of children he has or monetary places under (98-3), 6/27/98, pp. 18-19 of French translation. 52. M'Fa Diarra, a Malinke friend of mine, told me that he had man concerning in to advise a middle-aged the loss of been called was distraught one of this man's wives' menstrual cloths. The woman because guarantee the cloth was the first one she had ever was used, and when itwas the of her continuing fertility. M'fa present the man

cloth nevertheless image of the menstrual much of Bamana thinking and behavior.49 are universal "secrets" that men are made


48. textile 49. the


text below 1993

and also a menstrual



for a discussion

of the type of

that becomes In her

cloth. Arts Nooter and secrecy of gives an overview inAfrica and quotes


in African



art objects

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?

1 19

Sabani: Stealing a menstrual cloth ismore serious than anything else in the world. No matter what you do, when you look at it, you will always see traces of blood on it; the will be there. But, for places where blood has rubbed into it example, ismy skin on the wrapper Iam wearing right
now? Mr. Mara: No.

Ibelieve to be also highlights what factor: the menstrual blood can be another critical "seen" on the cloth, and no amount of washing will eradicate this sight. This brings up the issue of what menstrual cloths are actually made from, for in a culture Sabani's statement where so much not necessarily is hidden, it is surprising that women use a dark cloth, which conceals the Interviews with several women blood completely. revealed that there were considerable differences between what do

Sabani: Look at this one, ifyou cut a piece from it, you can perform ritual operations with it until you are tired and you won't harm me, but ifyou take my menstrual cloth, no matter whether the marabout is skilled or not, you can get
to me.53

as to individual women regions and between In cloths were used to absorb a woman's menses. Salimata Kone always spoke of the worn during menstruation as being

the Beledugu,

Sabani states very clearly that it is the fact that one sees the traces of its owner's blood and "skin" on it that invests a menstrual cloth with intense power, implying that it is the cotton's ability to absorb blood that is the seem that it is critical facilitator of this process. It would its capacity for absorption that enables a menstrual cloth to become icon of female fertility. the ultimate

dyed undergarments black with mud. However, Tene Konare and completely Sabani Cissoko, both from Malinke areas, stated that some women use menstrual cloths made from clean scraps of used wrappers (presumably of many different Tene reported that she learned to make her colors). pads from pure white cotton cloth cut into sections and folded, and Sabani told us that in the time a Malinke woman wore a pure of her grandmother, white outer wrapper and tied a menstrual pad made from red cloth in place with a special belt that went menstrual to Sabani, the pad prevented her hips. According menstrual blood from appearing on the white any wrapper. She added that today it is preferable to wear an indigo cloth.54 To understand why Bamana and Malinke women might even consider using a white cloth, we need to around know that menstrual fashion divinatory medical information regarding fertility. The practical reason for using white cloth is that Bamana women must be able to see their menstrual blood in order to determine whether it is 'good' or 'bad/55 If the blood is cloths are used in an almost to obtain what we would call critical



a family in his care, that united everyone including meeting the nature of the loss. The family head and explained that whoever had taken the cloth return it or confess what requested with it. During and this meeting that he had thrown that he didn't the woman's an old understand teenage rag away down son the

they had done was overheard hole

why people kept such dirty things around, but that it couldn't in be the cloth possibly The woman and her husband that it realized question. immediately was indeed the cloth, and that the boy had inadvertently his destroyed he had not understood what he was fertility because nor the effects of his action. the meeting touching, They adjourned not to tell their son what he had done, because decided they considered that the cloth was now lost, the woman's fertility own mother's and

saying in the outhouse,

and that enlightenment about the results of his irretrievably damaged, action would be too much for the boy to bear. Such an event could have only happened in a city household where the younger generation is not being given the progressive in sexual behavior instruction and rules characteristic to inform of traditional life. M'fa was careful village me that although at the the woman had not gone through menopause time her son destroyed her first menstrual cloth, she had been unable to become since its loss. The implication of this story was pregnant cloth's whether the person Sabani its user's ability to affect who takes it and destroys Cissoko, (98-3), 5/25/98, fertility is it is malevolent p. 33 of French

54. Tene interview translation). that women

Konare Tlasun


how menstrual



out on 6/20/98

that the first menstrual constant, or not. 53.

Balo, a Malinke do not use dyed cloth as menstrual cloths. She was quite firm that white is used. Interview with Tlasun Balo, (98-30), cloth 6/22/98, pp. 56-7 nature of Malinke 45-7 of French 55. French West of French menstrual translation. cloth in the Sabani Cissoko 98-3, discussed 6/27/98, pp. 6-7 of in the pp. interview

in the pads are made (pp. 23, 25, 29 of French blacksmith also reported woman,

Interview with

translation. Laada fini kurun talen ka jugu ka temen dinye kow b?e I k'o k? cogo o cogo, i b'a ye, e b? joli now ye nin y'a la, joli fotini do y'a la, done o, finin b? nin l?, ni y'e ninangolo noronin y'a /a?Mr. Mara: Nh, nun. [No]. Sabani: Anhunnn. [Well]. N'i ye nin ta, i Sabani:

translation. Sabani Cissoko, (98-3), 6/27/98,


Interview with translation.

n'i ka laada finin kolon ta, i te tige, baara ni nin ye, ka d?se. Mais, desera abada, mori min b? se, mori min t? se, o konin b? se i la mine. A marabout is an Islamic holy man who specializes inmagical "work." b'a

articles on female menstrual groundbreaking regulation will in Renne and Van de Walle 2001. shortly appear Two of the papers, "The Blood that Links: Menstrual Regulation Several Africa the Bambara of Mali," by Sangeetha Madhaven and Aisse



RES 39 SPRING 2001

dark in color and has numerous lumps, it is considered will not it to be a sign that the woman producing become pregnant.56 A woman who notices this several a times will attempt to improve her menses by going to female healer, such as Sabani Cissoko, explaining what she has seen on her menstrual cloth, and obtaining a medicine which will produce a flow of traditional herbal lumps. This type of menstruation shiny red blood without (which would appear to conform more to a young girl's to be is believed flow than to that of an older woman) 'good' and the harbinger of successful pregnancy. cloth's dual ability to absorb and The white menstrual then display blood is, Ibelieve, a crucial clue to the supreme power of these cloths. The white cloth absorbs does not camouflage?this and yet shows?it ny?m? cloths enable It is the fact that menstrual filled blood. the viewer to see the unseeable with shocking clarity It is this potential for direct that renders them so potent. a visual contact with the most forbidden of substances,

do not take lightly, that that even women substance makes these cloths so feared and imbues them with so much power. Furthermore one should note that a dried, cloth becomes menstrual stiff, like a Basiae when first worn, and that part of the shock the wrapper Bamana experience when seeing a Basiae or a cloth is the result of seeing a nyam?-charged menstrual into an object that can now be transformed liquid for good or evil ends. manipulated cloths are cloths whose menstrual Conceptually, seem to be defined by their entire function would It is the cotton's ability to provide a absorptive capacity. can first 'drink in' and then display material base that that is critically the liquid produced by a woman unwashed important. These two phases of use, first absorbing and to the eye what should never be seen, then displaying Ihave to the paradigm rather precisely correspond of first stockpiling and then releasing ny?ma. suggested is built up as the cloth absorbs menstrual blood, Ny?ma into the human eye comes and it is then released when the it. who produce forbidden contact with Women, intrinsic ny?ma to deal with this have enough blood, men must try to evade this destructive gaze at sight, but all costs.
* * *



West Africa," Fertility in understanding significant particularly in the Mande world. 'bad' menstruation women's designed fertility, use of traditional to not medicines induce menstruation

"The Meaning Society: Guinea,

of Menstrual

Management by Elise C. Both

in a High Levin, are of 'good' the meaning articles document that are


in interventions in an effort

to improve

a woman's

an abortion. to produce confirmation article offers Madhaven's independent Sangeetha menses is a spiritual as well as having painful and interrupted notes that Madhaven for Bamana women. problem physiological menses are seen as a sign of good health, but that delayed regular are seen as an indicator of illness. In menses without pregnancy addition she mentions blood that some women and as abnormal, as ominous. reports regard black, that too much blood women


smelling also viewed

sticky, or bad in the menses in Dabola, of menstrual illness. In a


the subliminal cloths are the ur-objects, If menstrual how does understanding for any sacred object, model them illuminate the creation of ritual sculpture, the 'art' cloths this paper began? Menstrual objects with which are potent because the thickly spun and woven traditional cotton is soaked over a considerable period Ibelieve fluid possible. of time in the most dangerous that this idea of soaking is critical to understanding of ny?ma the intensification them when one examines For, during that and artistic procedures closely, almost all the ritual as well as textiles with ny?ma are based invest sculpture to be worked on the premise that the raw material from the to absorb substances the capacity possesses Bamana thought about artistic creation. In the case of cloth, this is self-evident, outside. but, it is not nearly as clear with from aWestern viewpoint, regard to sculpture. in theWest we tend, without When we think of wood to think of this material as hard, it, realizing necessarily is resistant, and impervious to the outside. What and these assumptions here is to abandon necessary look at wood as though itwere a porous sponge (which, Bamana sculptors When on a microscopic level, it is). select a tree to cut for a ritual object, they ideally

Elise Levin Upper blood Guinea, as critical

that Fulani

and Malinke

and amount regard the color, consistency, health or factors that indicate menstrual

are menstrual problems rough draft of her paper Levin says that "Many or nyama which to be caused by a blockage, (in Maninka), thought who is following She also cites a woman must be removed promptly." traditional itwas medical treatments in an effort blood that the health of her menstrual has pregnant saying "it isn't dark like improved, and there is much more of it." flow that is believed pp. 6-7 of to to become

it is very before, clear that Levin makes generate 56. French blood know know a successful Interview with translation.

red, and healthy, it is this kind of 'good' (98-3),

pregnancy. Sabani Cissoko, sort of blood any


Mr. Mara: What is blood


that there are no that. Mr. Mara:

is healthy blood? Sabani: Healthy in it.Mr. Mara: How does one impurities in it? Sabani: Of course one can impurities is not it forms lumps, it

you healthy?when becomes grainy.

blood which How? Sabani: Well, is dark, look at it, its appearance

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


one growing out of a termite mound (Brett-Smith Carvers select such trees because 1994:124-127). they believe that termites (who are said to be messengers from the spirit world) only build their mounds over choose underground invisibly connect of water, hidden that the arid plateaux of the savannah with th? life-giving Niger river. The virtue of such trees is that their roots have absorbed, and pulled up into the wood itself, the fertilizing properties of this secret water source. It is because at the most fundamental the wood, sources streams

we move to the next stages of making a ritual If carving, we find that the idea of soaking both the wood to be carved and the carver in potent "medicines" this process (Brett-Smith 1994:64-66). The Bamana usually refer to the actions that Iconceptualize as 'soaking' as "washing" (ka ko). When we speak of in theWest we generally refer to a process washing is doused with water, the body or object whereby scrubbed with soap, and then rinsed. However, ka k? refers to what we would for regard as repeated washings, in the Bamana world, "washing" encompasses drinking a dominates leaf solution, using it to bathe in, and sometimes boiling the solution and inhaling its vapours before drinking and in it.These actions maximize the contact washing between the skin of the human external, to have the "medicine" many ways as possible. and the leaf substance body, both internal and in question, in an effort the human skin in as penetrate

(like cotton cloth) that it can level, is a porous substance act as the medium for the transfer of the water's life to humans. This perception of wood's giving power ability to absorb in the precolonial chunks of wood, boiled by the report that, famous sculptors took huge past, pottery placed them in human-sized, is also demonstrated

jars filledwith oil (and probably herbal medicines) and

them for hours or even days. The boiling was to make the wood last longer and ostensibly designed on the to insects and it depended resistant become the hardest woods would absorb the oil. Once saturated in potent liquids, the wood was a basi or "medicine" well on the way to becoming that emanated power.57 awareness that even

Thus, the human body, like the wood of trees, appears to be perceived as porous and able to absorb outside substances. Ihave already mentioned the ambivalence and the constant fear of poisoning that this perception of the as porous and therefore vulnerable generates, but body the perception of the body as open and penetrable also in allows the Bamana to "wash" the body protectively curative substances. All ritual experts, and especially carvers, spend a great deal of time seeking out anti inwhich (lakariw) and "medicines" poisons they can soak themselves Some of through repeated washings. these basiw or "medicines" will address what we consider purely physical ailments, like arthritis, will attempt to armor the expert's body against poisons of his or her rivals, and against ny?ma. sculptors still "wash" with numerous medicines they prepare to cut trees like the l?nk?, which particularly charged with In the 1994:121-122).58 isolated himself actually carve, he, like the wood newly dyed Basiae, was but most the Famous when are

57. Ibelieve itmay be somewhat the that, although concealed, out here forms the most significant sketched 'soaking' process part of the preparation of any ritually important object. Some objects, such as boliw, show obvious visual signs of this process, but on many other objects, such as Ci Wara headdresses, the signs of 'soaking' may or confined to the fibers and costumes be minimal that are always used Malinke the wooden together with see a headdress and such Since the Bamana and object. as a its fiber accoutrements conceptual is regarded as though itwere soaked simply

whole, because

an object a portion of it has received this treatment. My own conviction is that no sacred object is ever put into use without some but confirmation of this undergoing 'soaking' process, a great deal of additional research. requires hypothesis In the case headdresses one of Ci Waraw are carved in a museum from was it is probable soaked we that the wood or washed these


has to remember

that while

prior to carving. see Ci Waraw isolated under

the fiber garments that cover the spotlights as separate the Bamana do not view the headdresses from the dancers, fibers. Many years ago James Brink told me that when he studied the area he was Ci Wara dances in the Kolokani informed that the most and without sacred article had been and powerful its fibers, because these part of the headdress was in special soaked leaf solutions. In addition, the recent on Ci Waraw in African Arts by Stephen Wooten (2000: 21, indissolubly

ny?ma (Brett-Smith past, by the time a sculptor in the bush, and sat down to he carved, or indeed, like a 'soaked' in "medicines." The idea of 'soaking' allows us to understand the mechanism through which a sculptor transfers power or If the wood he works is a porous ny?ma to his carving.


Bailleul which

the existence of boliw that are 29-30) 25-26, highlights linked to some Ci Wara headdresses and their successful Boliw blood are always of sacrifice. subject to soaking and "washing,"

(or d?nga), (1986:26, as Afzelia and wounds,

lists only a synonym for the l?nk?, d?gan (1996:454) he identifies as Afzelia africana. Thoyer-Rozat it 181) cites the Linge and identifies that it is used to treat fevers, gastritis, are poisonous.

performance. if only in the

28, 36, 152-153, 179, africana. She mentions and that the seeds


RES 39 SPRING 2001

it can, by definition, substance capable of absorption, 'drink in' the ny?ma released from his body when he uses his left, rather than his right hand to carve. Thus, like a menstrual cloth or a Basiae, can absorb wood, and stockpile ny?ma, however invisible itmay be. I think that this metaphor of 'drinking in' ny?ma, which, ismy own and not one used when used in this context, the Bamana, allows us to understand the continuous by trajectory of the artmaking process somewhat more clearly.59 Ifone traces the origins of the ny?ma in the people and things that are intimately involved in the of sacred objects, one finds that the substances a process have all, at some point, undergone concerned a nyam?-filled in and absorbing of soaking liquid. In some cases this liquid is naturally produced, as in the and in some cases it is artificial, blood of menstruation, creation as in the "medicines" inwhich wood can be soaked or I suggest that even insubstantial entities, such as own very powerful ny?ma), are speech (which has its linked, at some stage in thought, to the image actually In the case of speech, much of its of liquid substances.60 is said to come from the spit of the person ny?ma boiled. speaking, and it is this saliva, absorbed by the knots in the tassels that adorn ritual ly charged men's shirts (fig. 4), that imbues such garments with power.61 The transfer I of ny?ma, would argue, fundamentally depends on its having a liquid carrier, or a carrier, such as either speech, that can be conceptualized the wood or the textile penetrating as a kind of liquid through the air.62

If, for the Bamana, the primary function of what we 'artmaking' is to transfer and stabilize ny?ma, and increasing ny?ma involves a soaking process that must take place over a certain length of time, it becomes clear why neither sculptors nor mud cloth dyers can ever "finish" their products. For, by definition, any call is lengthy and continues 'soaking' process through time. To be "full" a mask must 'soak up' both the ny?ma communicated left hand, and the by the sculptor's its "owner" pours over it?the ritual porridge substances


blood, and incantations that keep the and these are processes that need never object alive, cotton each have their end. Human skin, wood, and own capacity to absorb and it is the foreign substances, that builds up an object's power of these substances are powerful to the extent that ny?ma. Cloth (and wood) have absorbed powerful fluids; their real function is they to serve as a base for the stabilization of these solutions (dege), sacrificial and the concentration of ny?ma. So far, Ihave dealt almost exclusively with the nature of ny?ma itself, but I have not directly addressed the issue of whether the ny?ma associated with both the fabrication and the use of a ritual object leaves identifiable visual signs that track the object's trajectory If such signs exist, do they change to signal of power. is used up, has vanished because that an object's power a ritual rule has been broken, or that its ny?ma has intensified to the point that its "owner" can no longer run the risk of living with it? it, and must destroy In trying to identify the visual signs of ny?ma, we run into a preliminary stumbling block, for the Bamana inmany the ny?ma of a power-filled experience object and their perception of an object's power dimensions, can be acquired as much from an olfactory or aural as from a visual one. Inmany cases, the experience bystander through the ny?ma of a person or object perceives its smell; ny?ma-laden is seldom clothing

use the metaphor of ""drinking" to describe the 59. The Bamana a sacred such as a Komo altar, offering of sacrificial liquids to object, if they also use it to describe the absorption of but Ido not know 1990 dissertation for a See pp. 136-148 of Barbara Hoffman's in human speech. See also discussion of the ny?ma involved profound 1997 dissertation, Kassim Kone's 30-33, pp. 10, 21, 26-27, important 40?42, 176, note 93 for additional insights into the ny?ma of speech. 1984:140 and Kone 1997:199-200, for a 61. See Brett-Smith of how the tassels on a shirt can absorb the ny?ma of speech. description eliminates 62. Tene Konare was asked which ny?ma procedure or breathing in smoke from oneself with a "medicine," faster?washing a medicinal incense that contains burning the one Tene: Of these two methods, the most throw efficacious. Mara: So, what have washed powder. associated with movement you is ny?ma. 60.

she must will


leave more

Therefore, Tene: Yes! good

In this case the ny?ma into the stream. her bath water that iswhat the old men say. Mara: Indeed! quickly; one has no choice it iswhen that one burns the medicine? one has no choice. Truly, 7/7/98, it is running water p. 10 of French that is


is that method?

Tene: Once

in a medicine, that you it is recommended yourself into a flowing inwhich the water you have washed yourself if you are far away from a river, you can dig a hole stream. However, it is into it. You should do that in a place where and pour the water unlikely by bit... the edge leave you bit that anyone will put their feet. The ny?ma will .To remove at the person must wash ny?ma from someone, of a running stream, or after the person has washed herself,

rid of ny?ma. for getting Interview with Tene Konare, translation. The




fact that washing is the most efficient way of getting rid of itself has at least some characteristics that ny?ma of a

even on the conversations though extended liquid substance, subject it absolutely clear that this force is invisible and with many people make as cannot truly be characterized form. having any particular physical

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


Figure 4. Hunter's shirt with by a virgin. The ritual expert and spits the words into the hunter wearing such a shirt
of S. Brett-Smith.

thick tassels, a tafow dloki. Each tassel must be made under certain conditions, often from thread spun who makes the tassels and attaches them to the shirt mutters an incantation as he creates each one thick cotton. It is his saliva that transmits the incantation to the cotton, which then embodies it.Thus, a is bristling with embodied incantations and thereby protected from hostile spirits and people. Collection


and important masks usually disgorge a strange, odor, or textiles the scents of mud and herbal smoky of dyes. Inother cases, the verbal communication a person may have about the medicines knowledge absorbed, or the way inwhich an object was created and is used, is even more important than smell, and in some the fact that a person, sculpture, or textile is to a (laden with ny?ma) may be self-evident ny?maman Bamana viewer merely from hearing the object's name, or, in a manner more familiar to aWestern observer, situations, from viewing the object. A Bamana observer who hears that an innocuous looking elder has studied with a

famous healer for many years and is a master of divination will immediately assume that the elder has "soaked" himself in herbal medicines and, if he iswise, will choose to eat with men other than the ritual expert, is left to consume who his meal alone. Yet, this expert may bear no sign of special status that can be identified from the outside (some elders choose to wear signs, such as special iron amulets?others do not), and the viewer's perception of the elder's ny?ma may be totally on the transmission of spoken information. dependent to the The importance of verbal communication of ny?ma is enormous, for an object's ny?ma perception


RES 39 SPRING 2001


not only be


but there

is always


possibility that ithas been dissipated by the breaking of

ritual rules. How does the Bamana viewer know that the or the cloth she iswearing mask he iswatching really is one with power to act in the world? Here, I think visible accurate predictors of an signs are not necessarily object's power, for, focused on visual objects and as we are in the West, we may tangible evidence underestimate the power of speech, rumor, and memory. a It may be sufficient that rumors start concerning Komo owner's (Komotig?s) transgression of the particular his sacred rule that he not have sex prior to approaching to lose their for the altars and mask in question objects, apparent potency. it is difficult to describe the absolute Furthermore, inwhich many Bamana and Malinke scarcity live on a daily basis. Ihave often households interviewed elderly women who alternated between and, were the first to become only two wrappers, have to make do with one.63 irremediably torn, would knows and others like them, everyone what dish, what broom, and what cloth belongs exactly to whom, and someone who borrows an old, torn piece these households of cloth herself to use as a rag without asking will quickly find In such an of a quarrel. new or unusual object is cause for environment, any in the midst comment

would have been almost impossible to see an object without inwhich being aware of its owner, the situations itwas used, and any rumors about it. For a Bamana viewer, an excision Basiae was not just a ritual cloth, it was Kankou's Basiae made by her great aunt, Guanj?, two months ago and used after the excision performed the hottest dry season ever. Such a cloth is no during longer "the same" as an unworn excision wrapper the viewer can detect painted by the same artist. Once some signs of use, no matter how insignificant, and the inevitable connections have registered, a cloth or mask is no longer "empty:" it has begun to emanate a energy. such verbally or visually conveyed, information is critical for the Bamana and Malinke, and often fuses social and economic into a relationships potentially Whether dangerous perception an object. of power that lasts throughout the lifetime of For, a ritual cloth or mask that is not enmeshed in a thick web of human actions and interactions is, in



terms, "empty," without ny?ma, and no matter how beautiful itmay be. When nonfunctioning, of a Komo mask, the sculptor the commission discussing Kojugu Cissoko explicitly states that an object that does not result from a complex set of negotiations between artist and client, but is carved simply because the sculptor feels like it, is "a round thing," "an ornamental thing," and above all a useless thing.64 It is the slow accumulation of


and investigation. Indeed, this scarcity of seems to endow even everyday things with objects sense of meaningfulness, and it almost an extraordinary such as is not unusual for a particularly striking object, an unusual intelligent dog, to looking and particularly an oral explication itwith ny?ma. that charges generate of scarcity itself seems to the experience Furthermore, bestow a surreal aura on almost any object, and on those feared things that are seldom especially seen. Thus, in the traditional context where was the rule, not the exception, and a woman scarcity with four or five wrappers was considered "wealthy," actually

Book 13, Modeles-2, 6/22/84, Kojugu Cissoko, see Brett-Smith 1994:86, pp. tapes. For this passage, statement of Kogugu's (Bamana text, p. 283). The English translation Ifyou have carved a new one follows. like that in [a mask] Kojugu: it like that [i.e., without it immediately], order to keep and if you using 1-2 of transcribed to please your hand and you have sculpted it then if you hear that it can't resolve to a that the Komo mask belonging [i.e., any problem], anything in certain person can't resolve things, the reason for this can be found inwhich the way this Komo mask was made. You carved it, but no one it from you, you simply made it like that and you put it on one sought have carved it simply because there is no work, side mask], like that, saying that should a person you would give it to him. No one come [in need of a Komo spoke to you about this a Komo mask], of commissioning but you [the problem a mask can to your own it like that according ideas?such


Interview with


63. This occurs Bamana poorest who had grown wedding Kolokani looked

principally areas because

in the Beledugu, of its proximity


is one

of the

problem carved


to the Sahara. Women in

up or lived in other areas often referred to large I first began research trousseaus cloths. When of different as Salimata

someone to you any strength. Only when possess gets up and comes to say, "I have need of a Komo mask" [does the mask have any to an the problem and will come strength]. Then you will discuss You cut it [the tree]. But to say that you will cut it to your own whim like that, you will sculpt it and you will according that one sells. Such a thing it aside like that, this is like something put but he will resolves nothing. You can give it to whomever you wish, agreement. simply hands, have but a round itwill thing in his hands, resolve nothing. an ornamental thing in his

in 1976-1979, such elderly women, back to times when women possessed

in evaluating However, wrappers. is divided that a wedding 'trousseau' up amongst of the bride's husband's female members family, herself may often end up with only a few cloths

Kone, also larger numbers of one has to be aware these memories all the different and from that the bride the trousseau.

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


a hard-won achievement in its significant events, each own right, that creates the intangible power, the ny?ma, its active life as a presence with which a mask begins within a community. Without the effort and sweat of the millet used to support the sculptor and his farming to family while he is carving, the divination find the right tree, the sheep and kola nuts sacrificed to the tree before it is cut, the slaves and cattle traditionally offered the artist as his final payment, and the maintenance by the sculptor of a state of purity, not only for himself, but for his tools as well?without these extended the object has no ny?ma and therefore no power. In part, at least, it is the invisible flow of economic and social relations that wrap themselves of the around a ritual object, and the self-sacrifice actions, involved, that endow a mask or human the orally transmitted history that produces of ny?ma. perception Oral history and rumor are crucial in the perception of ny?ma, for the inexpert viewer must somehow individuals figure with become a

Ihave ritual procedures, and sacrifices agreements, not to leave any mark on the finished object described or "medicine." Perhaps this sign is only a slight burn on the left hand side of a famous healer's face or the deep brown/black as the Daba color of a particularly famous mask, such and itoften takes a very (fig. 5), viewer to detect such signs, but these knowledgeable subtle visual clues are immensely powerful for the Bamana. Furthermore, such signs can often be read as a

gauge of how much time has passed since the object was first commissioned. To some degree, and Bamana experts like Kojugu Cissoko stress that this is only a partial correlation, the number and intensity of visual signs apparent on a mask or textile reflect the force of an object's ny?ma and the this power has been built up. length of time over which Just as the smooth surface of a recently carved mask may testify to its low level of ny?ma, so the encrusted thick with accumulated carapace of an old headdress and porridge can signal its ability to kill an such a mask is always unwary viewer. Although as ny?maman perceived by the Bamana viewer no matter what its quality, such masks are often very fine blood aesthetically. Similarly, although a discolored menstrual or a wrapper which is in shreds may inspire more cloth an unused excision cloth, no matter how well fear than it is painted, it is often the finest excision cloths that become the most powerful once they are used. Aesthetic it is recognized and sought after, but for power it is important not on its own account, but the Bamana, it contributes to the ny?ma of the object. because The visual signs of ny?ma, the marks of use that simultaneously testify to an object's age, power, and to its arrival at some vaguely conceived finishing point the object is either so damaged as not to function

and aware, if only vaguely, of the economic ritual actions that have filled an object with power. is critical for the young man, who for the first time What is views the Komo mask his elders have commissioned,

the knowledge that his own labor in the fields has

contributed that the elders to the acquisition of the mask, and the belief the necessary have conducted rituals and in the right way. Whether the negotiations for the object

he knows the details of the procedures the elders have carried out or not, and most of a sacred object's remain unaware of this "secret" information, audience is the faith that such negotiations have taken place and in the carving that the proper rules have been observed of the piece that inspires the viewer's perception of the headdress as filled with ny?ma.


can be The contextual history I have been describing the most significant factor in a viewer's perception of an as seething with force, but aesthetics and the object of ny?ma are not unimportant visual communication for the Bamana, and inmost cases, the procedures that imbue a person, mask, or textile with power leave some visible traces.65 It is rare for the negotiations,

found sculptures counteraesthetic documented

in southern (Blier



and Togo and and the nkisi

their deliberate

by MacGaffey brilliantly transformed

(1993:18-103). describes

sculptures In this vein, Ikem Okoye's the Igbo into a dynamic to

1997 article, "History, Aesthetics and the Political in IgboSpatial

Heterotopias," traditionally architectural in each village, how, and unsightly rejected objects structure with its own special aesthetic.

of sacrificial blood, porridge, quills, strange seed that are added to create the pods, birds' feathers, and even garbage horrific appearance required of Komo masks and many boliw. The in other West African aesthetic of ny?ma has numerous correlates and Central African cultures. One thinks particularly of the bocio

65. McNaughton aesthetic' aesthetic


has discussed

the deliberate


Africa the aesthetic of exuviae and the 'ugly' seems Throughout linked to the manipulation of secret powers, and Mary Nooter notes that the secrecy, with which many ritual ly important African are shrouded, is frequently linked to increasingly less objects be

'beautiful' visual forms (Nooter it is the Bamana 1993:59-61). Among an true that the more bloody and 'non-aesthetic' the certainly object, more a viewer will tend to perceive it as highly secret and powerful.


RES 39 SPRING 2001

Figure 5. The Daba mask. Beledugu region, nineteenth or early twentieth century. In 1979 the elders who care for the mask said that its huge mouth represented its ability to destroy whoever crossed directly in front of it.The elders attributed this power, not to the sacrifices made to the mask (it never receives a blood sacrifice), but to the speech said over ityear after year. It is interesting that the name Daba, when translated literally, means "big mouth." The mask appears for about fifteen minutes every year shortly after the completion of the Do rituals.

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?

12 7

at all, or so powerful as to be dangerous, acquire another dimension when one learns that a strikingly similar term, ny?m?n, means "garbage." In fact, the nasalized ending of ny?m?n is often lost in the quick flow of conversation, and frequently one can distinguish the two words only their context. Furthermore, the Bamana themselves by various types of exuviae and with ny?ma, endowing rejected and damaged 'garbage' to lost coins discovered in the from excrement objects, is actually with uncanny power. Physical garbage sand, ny?maman, or full of spiritual ny?ma, perhaps because, when left to itself in a heap at the edge of town, it smells appear the best earth for growing in the creation of garbage, the plants. Paradoxically, of used objects gives rise to an natural disintegration intensification of hidden energies, that, when released, allow new growth. Thus, the detritus of life is both good and ferments until can, like clear, bright red menstrual blood, be the sign of a productive fertility, or, it can take on sinister and destructive abilities, like the coagulated black menstrual feared by women. These analogies lumps and suggest that an inherent process of disintegration a natural 'death' for every ny?m?-laden destruction, and bad?it thing, may also hold sway over the artificial creations of in the men?the sculptures and ritual objects that we, endeavor to preserve. West, For the Bamana, the marks of use?the scrapes and tears that testify to the wearing of a mask or cloth? critical markers both are, like the smell of putrefaction, of the build up of ny?ma and its simultaneous Signs of wear are often read as a dissipation. to an object's testimonial ritual power and status. In a straw broom, the familiar tool used to handle fact, is actually treated as though it every kind of garbage, were a ritual object. No matter how many people it is customary inhabit a courtyard, for there to be only one broom, and this truncated remnant is often so In 1998 I stayed in a stubby as to seem unusable. it produces to associate

dirt, the bruises, the scrapes, the tears, the marks of age on a human face, the broken nose on a mask, the fading marks on a mud cloth?all these indicators of age are not only signs of decay. If read in one way, they may point, not to an object's loss of force, but to its of an uncanny presence and power, the acquisition intensification of its ny?ma. In their own way, the Bamana are well aware that the visual signs of wear can generate a specialized aesthetic

and they often react as much to the detritus added to a form itself. On many carving as to the underlying and one thinks immediately of Komo masks objects, as (fig. 6), aesthetic effect may end up being determined much by how the blood drips over the surface of the headdress as by its original features. Because the critical index of an object's power is its ny?ma, not whether it is a new or little used in pristine condition or damaged,

mask is almost never as "good" or as powerful as an old one that visibly demonstrates the marks of use. This visual ny?ma?one say the "garbage" added to the might mask?the layers upon layers of blood and porridge, the addition of porcupine quills, bird feathers, and animal a "full" image horns, and the damaged teeth?produces which declares the authority of the headdress. Such a coating takes many years to build up, and the production of an object's ny?ma, and therefore the object itself, may require years of use and may extend far beyond the as the lifetime of a mask's sculptor. Thus, production, know it,may in principle continue indefinitely, an object, by definition, never possesses enough because ny?ma and is therefore never "finished." This aesthetic of "garbage" is usually but not always the thick surface of a Komo mask is not accumulative; only built up through many sacrifices, but its ny?ma is in the animal horns, the given visible expression porcupine quills, and the black feathers attached to it.The forms a visual code that the average Komo assemblage member can easily decipher. A particular horn society comes from the mangalanin, a tiny antelope filled with Bamana ny?ma whose porcupine sex becomes erect when it is killed, quills are tools favored by sorcerers, and the

three different women used such a courtyard where broom to sweep different sections of the courtyard. I asked why each woman When did not buy her own to have inconvenient broom, and remarked that itwas areas needed sweeping to serve three meals on time, I simultaneously was told that this would not be done. If a new broom was to be bought, the broom had to be ritual ly existing burned first, since itwas filled with potentially harmful several in order ny?ma, and through long use had effectively acquired a semi-sacred status.66 Thus, the process of use?the only one when

that a woman a

66. The power of a used should never

broom touch

is also demonstrated a man with a broom

by the fact while sweeping

If she does so, she may be accused of intentionally courtyard. a man's masculinity through contact with the nyam?-filled broom, which may render him impotent. Mr. Adama Mara gave both this information and the explanation of the single broom rule to me at harming different moments in our work together.

128 RES39 SPRING2001

Figure 6. Komo mask,

materials. L.: 85.1 cm.

late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Wood,

The Brooklyn Museum of Art, 69.39.3.

metal, organic

black feathers come from the vulture, an awe-inspiring bird with many secret abilities.67 Some objects are associated with nyam?-filled words as well as sights: a hunter's shirt (fig. 4) may be marked with the attachment of thick twists of cotton whose knots each encode a different klissi or incantation. The shirt's bristling surface the hidden power, the ny?ma, immediately communicates of the verses and human spit captured in each knot.

Visual ny?ma can be interpreted at many more and less subtle levels. Younger men may view the horns, of quills and feathers of a Komo mask as the expression a deadly quotient of ny?ma, but ritual experts and report that this detritus is to frighten the average merely camouflage designed viewer. For Kojugu, these additive elements are not as the liquids, the herbal nearly as nyam?-laden medicines, blood, and human sweat absorbed poisons, by the wood base. sculptors like Kojugu Cissoko Kojugu: A Komo that doesn't have many decorations?one can't say that it is a Komo without power. The ornaments are simply like those [initiates] that one calls timidenw.68
Dieterlen and Ciss? (1972), nor (1951), Dieterlen a group of Komo initiates called (1929) mention timidenw, members. junior association Kojugu they appear to be relatively their hands to make the noise defines their role as that of clapping 68. Neither intimidates the young men who are being inducted into the Komo.

67. who


is endowed

the other

is a "sorcerer animal" reported that the mangalanin in sand" for all with great ny?ma and is the "diviner to Basi, this antelope has "double animals. According Fane

it has two pairs of eyes, one for use in the daytime and one eyesight," could shake itself for use at night. Basi also said that the mangalanin into a and change color and that it could also shake itself and change white sheep, and that he himself told Mr. Mara that the Khasonke had seen these that transformations. eats Basi the flesh Basi believe if a woman


but that He

Interview with of the mangalanin, her children will be abnormal. 11-18 of French translation. 7/13/98, Fane, (98-50), pp.

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


Thus, they are there to frighten people so that they know that it is something one should fear.69 While expect a certain category of objects, such as Komo masks, to display visible ny?ma, some masks which bear no signs of blood sacrifice and no accumulative such as the Daba (fig. 5), additions, can also emanate terrifying power. In the case of the Bamana viewers huge size, for it, and even more mask's is partly caused by its the solemn music played jaw, but its ponderous, animal-like movements, is the audience's of the important knowledge who comes to see the mask history. Any stranger its awe-inspiring its enormous effect

point that the once useful "medicine" has turned on its an everpresent owners and become danger to those in its vicinity? Why and how do those objects which the Bamana both cosset and obey come to the end of their do the signs of wear cross some invisible 'lives'?70 When line and lead a ritual expert to declare that an object must be ritually destroyed? Natural factors are certainly at work in the progressive of carvings and disintegration textiles among the Bamana, but in the case of most to artifacts, the deliberate actions that are designed impart ny?ma also serve the purposes of destruction. And, as with the household is, in broom, destruction some sense, an implicit and even a planned goal of the artistic process. true for is particularly this observation Although for much sculpture. For, in conservation eyes, long-term presents serious because of the ever-increasing ny?ma it creates. dangers in Bamana One of the major problems life iswhat to do with highly charged ritual objects whose ny?ma is so textiles, Bamana relevant intense that they threaten anyone who handles them, including their "owners" (tigiw). While modernization has intensified this problem because few younger are willing to observe the stringent rules that people it is not a new surround the handling of such objects, Thus, to protect both its owner and other users, ritual objects often possess built-in potential that empty the physical shell of its escape procedures is so fraught with Yet, this 'escape' process ny?ma. dilemma.71 danger that it is rare for the actual users or "owners" of it themselves. the object to undertake Let us look at this first with regard to the Basiae and N'Gale process, cloths and then with regard to sculpture. We have seen that cloth is a useful stabilizer for ny?ma because it can absorb powerful liquids such as it is also


not to pass in front of the Dabais is immediately warned lest its ny?ma kill him, and it is also well open jaw, known that the owners of the Daba killed its sculptor when he had finished it, thus investing the headdress with the power released by taking a human life. In inhabitants of the town that owns the Daba are addition, that it can shine with mysterious light at night, an ominous event, such as the death of a heralding beloved elder. Thus, visual ny?ma can certainly point spiritual power for certain viewers, but some objects without this distinctive aesthetic are nevertheless aware


intense ny?ma. charged with We have seen that both oral history and visual horns, quills, patina, knots on a shirt, and signs?the accumulated blood on a cloth?are by Bamana masks and textiles after the ritual object is 'finished' and handed over to its user. Once one accepts that a crucial these objects actually occurs after, stage in producing rather than before, this transfer, one realizes that, in the Bamana world, there must be a different definition of And indeed, that is so. "finishing." What destroy happens when a ritual expert is forced to a ritual object whose ny?ma has increased to the

also with

that they carry the kalaw or "rods" of the Komo (interview Book 13, pp. 29, 40 of 6/24/84, Outils-2, Kojugu Cissoko, transcribed tapes). On page 40 of this interview Kojugu states that, "The names to [of the different groups of initiates] change according one the place the particular Komo association is [the town where talking about is located]," a declaration that suggests that every own of the Komo association hierarchy including my time and place. limited to a particular is


70. The word 'lives' ismy own person use this expression. 71. Traditional rules proscribing


I never


a Bamana

sex for long periods of time prior to the are especially handing of ritual objects likely to present The other problem most commonly is how to live with cited problems. a ritual that traditionally In this case, object required human sacrifice. an elder will


Book 13, p. 6/24/84, Outils-2, Kojugu Cissoko, t'a ba t?, m?g? tapes. Kojugu: K?m? min masirilen fo ko, Komo kuntan don de. Masiriw koni ye dor?n, komi a b? f? minnu ma ko, timidenw, ani k'a masiri d?r?n, mog?w ka siran a ny?, a ka Ion ye. silanny?f?n 49 of transcribed

probably 69. Interview with

often cut his own arm or leg in order to "feed" the object to protect the community from its devastating anger at not enough cared for. However, such elders freely acknowledge being properly that this is a stratagem at best and does not always work. If badly a cared for, this type of object will cause terrible disasters within and a powerful ritual expert may need to be summoned village, make extensive sacrifices that remove the ny?ma of the object. to


RES 39 SPRING 2001

life about to start on married blood, but a young woman excision cloth among does not want her all-too-potent If stealing a shred of this cloth and her belongings. it can inflict a devastating ritual work with performing illness on her or make her sterile, why give long-term an unnecessary or co-wives her future sisters-in-law for working sorcery? Thus, at the end of the opportunity a young woman transfers retreat that follows excision, to a "mother," a trusted elderly her Basiae or N'Gale in her own natal family (often a young woman's or mother's co or maternal aunt, grandmother, paternal survived childbirth and wife). This elder has successfully to guard and the ritual knowledge has accumulated woman the young woman's enhance fertility by careful handling its of the cloth. To protect the cloth and to dissipate the elder wears the Basiae or N'Gale ny?ma safely, wears the cloth, the signs of daily. As the female elder use, at first markers of increasing power, intensify as the the black/red cloth is repeatedly washed. Originally to a yellow-toned grey, but designs merely fade away and washing after a year or more, repeated wearing actually destroys the cotton, and it falls into shreds (fig. 7). wore it By this point, it is hoped that the young girl who has become pregnant, and perhaps even after excision assuring herself and her given birth successfully, as long as the her fertility. Nevertheless, relatives of to harm the young it still has the potential cloth exists, and must therefore be destroyed. woman, It is difficult to obtain any clear statement from either or female elders about why the process of young women wear first endows the cloth with ny?ma and then allows force to ebb out of an excision cloth this mysterious a Basiae in shreds still safely. Everyone agrees that even harmful ny?ma, but most elderly possesses potentially women seem to think that the level of power carried by a well-worn less than that once possessed cloth ismuch over by the richly colored textile the young girl handed to her "mother." Clearly the fading of the rust-colored at least to some extent, the designs represents, of the cloth's uncanny power, and it is only diminishing at this point, long after the cloth dyer's work has been consider that the that Bamana women completed, a "finished," or metaphorically wrapper approaches even at this stage, the a 'dead' state. However, speaking, cloth is still powerful enough that itwould be most unwise to keep scraps of it for use in cleaning or to cast it on the heap of communal garbage at the edge of town. Thus, its elderly guardian carefully ties the Basiae or N'Gale around a heavy stone and takes it to a deep

she casts it in. If there is no body of water pond where she may also bury it in the ground far out into nearby, the bush where no one will find it. Similarly, women cloths either by casting destroy their used menstrual them into a river, burning them, or burying them far out into the bush.72 It is fairly easy to see at what point the ongoing 'creation' of an excision wrapper becomes and interchangeable with a process of disintegration But what about sculpture? Here, we are faced destruction. with far more secrecy than in the case of ritual cloth. However, Basi Fane, does give some insight into this problem. Basi told us about a blacksmith named Kunfiyn (he was unwilling inherited a Komo Komo to provide a last name) who had the inherited from his father. However, had "fought" with him and "fatigued" him:

Basi: . . . depriving him of everything that he would normally have. Furthermore, it [the Komo] made him blind. In this case, wouldn't he go and get another Komo?73 Basi also explained: Basi: ... if it is a case of a ritual object that you yourself have created, ifyou get to a point where you cannot support it, you go and throw it into the water. But, with regard to every other ritual object that you have not created yourself, but which you have travelled to another village to
purchase from an owner of basiw [medicines, route and i.e. ritual

objects]; when you can't bear livingwith this ritual object

any longer, you must retrace your give the object

back [to the person who made it].Then he will tell you what he needs for the ritual [to be able to remove the spiritual ties binding the user to the object]. Once you have given him what he needs, then you give him the object.
From that moment on you owe him nothing.

Mr Mara: But Basi, does this take place celebration?

in secret or is it a

Basi: This is not the cause of a celebration. Itoccurs when you judge that you can no longer support the ritual object

of (98-3), 6/27/98, Cissoko, pp. 20-21 states that it is better to throw emphatically into the hole in the outhouse used menstrual cloths (in cities) or bury or cast them into a body of water, rather them in the bush (in villages), than burning them. In her words, them, one provokes "By burning armed fights in the region." 72. Interview with Sabani French translation. Sabani 73. Interview with Later translation. event was Bamana pew! K'a Basi Fane, (98-49), 7/8/98, p. 16 of French in the same interview Basi carefully noted that this in his lifetime. The not something he saw, nor did it occur is as follows. Basi: K'a kor'a fila don, s?r?, a t? foyi ye kuru b?e fenw minw ... e tina a nyini? la


tila la, k'a ny?w

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


and there is no other alternative, and when, if you don't get will harm you. Then you go and give itback to rid of it, it its creator saying, "So-and-so, I received this object from you, May Allah bless you, but Icannot sustain it [literally, were to return it,what would "continue underneath it"]. If I be the customary offerings?" He will tell you what he needs [for the appropriate ritual], and you will give him the customary things. From that moment on the ritual object
ceases to be in your name.74

tomoni). Any individual who betrays or speaks ill of others should restrain himself from taking this object. In the case where you want to get rid of this object, you must bring it back to the door of the Nama where you got it.You must provide a ram, ten kola nuts, and a red cock and tell them that you took the ritual object, but that at this time, you can no longer support it.Once you have done that you are finished with it. Interviewer: And ifyou go and cast it in the river?

if Basi then continues, explaining what would happen in question were a yaso, a "medicine" the ritual object and designed produced by the men's Nama association to kill sorcerers:75
Basi: ... Let us take the case of the jaso. You know that

Basi: You will suffer something harmful! It is not good to

throw ritual objects away.76

this ismade to fight sorcerers. Ifyou did this [probably Basi refers to throwing it in the water] to the yaso, even would kill you immediately. If though you are the owner, it are the owner of the jaso, I mustn't reproach you in you your absence. Ifyou do something to me, while you are
sitting with me as we are now, we must talk about it

the sacrifices made the object of all power or simply break actually empty the bond between the object and its "owner." However, information collected additional by Mr. Mara from

Basi does

not tell us whether


together like this and put an end to it like this. Ifnot, ifyou curse me and insult me when Iam not here, I swear that it will kill you. It is the same thing if another person or a sorcerer wishes ill to its owner, it will kill the person. That iswhat we call destroying someone completely (ka

Basi says, "you must bring it back to the door of the you got it," he refers to the door of the small ritual hut to the Nama in every village dedicated that possesses this association. In the past, the sacred objects of the association would be kept in this hut and sacrifices would in front of it. However, most take place ritual where experts are now so afraid that their sacred sale to art dealers that they prefer to keep locations. objects will be stolen for in other their basiw hidden

76. When


In the past these huts were repaired yearly by the young of the community. Now many of these young men have to Islam and refuse to carry out the repairs or participate converted the sacred associations. Thus, a large number of these huts have or are in a state of completely disrepair. A village Komo or Nama huts, one for each branch of the in question. might



Interview with



Basi: N y'a don,

of French Fane, (98-49), 7/8/98, pp.19-20 . . n'i basi koni. y?r? ye basi min b? la,

disintegrated have several association

n'i d?s?ra o k?r?, Ib'a la fill jiro. N'i y?r? t?basi wo basi b? la; f'i
a la to lo k'a basitigi k'a taga a s?g?r? dugu kerero; k'a taga basi, ni y'a y? ka fo, k'i t? se a k?r?, i b'i komunun basi san o dugur?, k'a taga a basi di; i la soro min f? k'a taga di o ma. A b'a laada fen f'i ye, I b'a la laadafenw b?; k'a la basi d'? ma; o turna, a la noton si t'i kan. dun Mara: bien" Basi t?, "mais," Basi, o tumanan, o y? k?ra sutara la le wa, "ou o fanan ni k? la tilon ne dR Basi: A t? k?la tilon di. E y?r? y'a .... Yelema cogo t'a la; n'e m'a b? e bolo, a b? ye, a b'i bolo, awaa fyen bila i la. E sera min f?, e y'a s?r? min f?, "e karisa, ne nana nin e

Basi Fane, (98-49), of French 7/8/98, pp. 20-21 Basi: yaso file ni ye, ni ye jaso ta, I y'a Ion subaga-k?l? fHalen. A t? taga . . . a ye, a tigi y'e y?r? min ye, a b'e y?r? faga y?r? nin kelenl ?aso. N'i Jaso y'e bolo, n n'e ti nyogon f? nin ye, ne t? . . . e mana e ko f?. Ne kana fenfen k? ne la, ne kanan sigi k'e makuma . . .A no nin kenna k'a dimi man k'a fo ko, Adama dimiman, mayni. translation. N'i "Adama e no nin na, n b'i wele, ye ko min k? ne na, n'a gannan k?, a ma diya ne ye." A ma ban wa? K'a wa I ko f?, k'a taga I ko fe, a t'i to yen! N'i ma fara, a b'i kuma k'i ko f??dajuguya kuma, walahi faga. "Mais" n'i m?g? g?re fil'i la, fo c?g?, subaga fara fen fen I no f?, cabu, ab'o kan, k'a wulita nyogon faga. A ye folo le ma ko o m?g? tomoni. M?g? o b'e se m?g? b'e se, jan fa la, m?g? m?g?

Interview with

fenin ta e f?, Allah sago, e sago, "mais" ne t? se a k?r?. N'i b'a bila, y'a laada ye fenw mun ye?" A b'a la laada f'i ye, I b'a la laada fenw d'? ma, o turna, e t?g? b?ra la pew. 75. The ?ama is a male 'secret' association main purpose whose the eradication


of sorcery. The Bamana consider of epidemics to be the result of sorcery, and in the past itwas the infectious disease to both prevent and remedy such attacks. of the Nama responsibility

the Nama this task by accusing individuals of performed specific the sorcery and unleashing anger against those accused, popular to suppress French attempted the association. The Nama still exists, but a Nama lack it. When chapters of it are rare and most villages as does perform, he now avoids naming masquerader specific people sorcerers. Nama masks are quite similar to Komo headdresses, but lack teeth and the additive elements that appear on Komo they usually masks. They often have very long ears.


k? kuma la, "ou bien," k'a ma fenw k?, k'ana ta de! Wa ni y'o m?g? I b'e ba k?r?n, a ni w?r?w ta, ni b'a bila, I y'a ta Nama-bonda mina, e bi taga o di oluw ma. "Awa ne le tan, a ni manan dondon, jaso ta, jaso fil? nin ye. N t? se a k?r?." I tila la, a kun si t? se I la. Mara: Nka, n'i tara la fili ba ro? Basi: comes E ye t'a ro, n'i y'a fili ba ro, I b'i galo term for into a ye. Basiya fili mayni. The verb ka tomoni a ruined verb town, who turn to indicate

from the Bamana Here the word

and Malinke is transformed

tomo or tomon.

anyone literally

that the jaso will not only destroy its owner and attacks him, but all their extended It can family as well. its owner into "ruins."


RES 39 SPRING 2001

Figure 7. A used Basiae cloth presented to me

after her excision. Collection of S. Brett-Smith.

in Kolokani in 1984 by the young woman who had worn


another ritual expert, Klempe Coulibaly, a blacksmith from Dioila, suggests that such sacrifices merely break the bond linking an "owner" to his object, and that the object can go back into use under the care of another user. Coulibaly reported that if an object such as the yaso were being returned to its source, the expert in charge of it had originated would the Nama cult from which send word to the owners of all the other jasow in the region. On an appointed day all these ritual experts, each of whom possessed his own yaso, would assemble, together with their apprentices. The head of the assembly would announce that so-and-so had returned his yaso, since he found himself unable to keep it.Then the leader would a ask if there was anyone present who already possessed the object, now that it had been yaso, and who wanted detached from its previous owner. Inmost cases, formally another elder would ask for the object with the stated In a intention of bestowing it upon a specific apprentice. different ceremony (which also demanded appropriate sacrifices) the apprentice would be given the abandoned a into the ranks of those possessing object and admitted

yaso. If,on the other hand, no one could be found to take the ritual object, a situation that has become increasingly common with the spread of Islam, the expert in charge of the Nama where it had originated would have to dispose of it. Basi, perpetually reticent, never revealed the method of a ritual object that is probably the most destroying common among the Bamana, and Malinke, although there may well be additional procedures that Ihave not Both casual conversations with elders yet encountered. and information provided by Klempe Coulibaly suggest that placing a sacred object on a termite mound may be the method of choice for destroying masks and other in this basiw. Coulibaly, who had himself participated of ritual, reported that when the owner of a powerful type basi dies and no one in the village can be found who is or able to care for it, the village summons an willing as the is a member of the same association expert who dead man and requests him to return the object to its origins. Ifno expert can be found with a sufficiently high level of expertise to carry out this task, the object will be

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


left alone in the dead man's house until both house and basi fall into complete ruin, destroyed by years of rain. iswilling If, however, a ritual expert is discovered who to take on the burden of removing the object's ny?ma and In he will do the following. assuring its safe destruction, order to move the ritual object, the village must provide two goats. One is put in front of the sacred object and one behind, while the basi is carried out to a termite in the bush (daba so, or nton bilen). When the arrives at an appropriate mound, a hole is dug cort?ge into it, and the first goat is sacrificed and its blood dripped into the hole. The ritual expert places seven kola nuts on the blood and then lays the ritual object down there. The expert then addresses the basi, telling it that its owner who died has not given it away, that itmust not think it has been thrown out, but merely that it is being it came. The ritual expert requested to return from whence will also make invocations to the spirits who inhabit the termite mound, because of the belief that there are mound powerful djinns living inside every termite mound and that the termites are their messengers. Djinns are creatures said to be constantly in touch with water; likewise ritual objects or basiw are all believed to have their origins in the water. The deepest source of the power animating both djinns and which the Bamana believe no matter how strong you cannot do anything against basiw iswater, a substance to be stronger than all others; are, you cannot cut it, you water. After the expert has

and order mirrors the structure of the human organization world, yet, unlike humans, termites have direct contact It with djinns and the other world. makes logical sense for to believe that, just as termites brought the sculptors streams and the spirits power of the underground associated with them into the raw wood from which so many "medicines" are made, so the termites can absorb the power of the ritual object as they consume it.They can then carry this power back to its original safely sour ?the earth and the spirits that lurk in or around the mound.78 Thus, the ny?ma, so painfully coaxed into sacred objects via an endless series of "baths" in herbal solutions, sacrificial blood, sacred incantations (klissiw), and millet porridge (dege), can be returned to the bush, that eternally present and endless repository of diffuse spiritual force. Just as ritual objects can be charged with power because they can absorb and soak up significant substances through their pores, so they can be voided of tunnels the energy, perhaps even by the honeycomb voracious insects create in the wood as they transfer the foas/'s power back to its deepest source. provide a means of taking back to the other the necessary and potentially positive ny?ma that animates ritual objects and enables them to destroy and create fertility. The sorcerers, punish wrongdoers, Bamana view the fact that a particular object may have turned on its owner, or accumulated too much ny?ma to in use, as a temporary situation which only continue demonstrates the frailties of the object's owner and the limits of human power. The fact remains that the larger human community needs sculptures or ritual desperately on its behalf, and that the to work "medicines" negative actions of these objects are a price that must be lived in order to obtain their positive benefits. However, with the clitoris, the most glaringly anomalous source of is perceived as embodying female ny?ma, almost Termites world exclusively negative power and as being inimical to successful fertility. It is interesting that Basi Fane's first the wife, Tlasun Balo, reported that after an excision, female surgeon (always a blacksmith) preserves carefully the clitoris and the other flesh removed from each girl,

to the spirit world, the ritual uttered his message object, in its hole, is covered with earth. The expert then sitting sacrifices the other goat, carrying the carcass around the termite mound until the blood ceases to flow. Finally, the hearts of the two goats are removed, and together with the heads and the four hoofs, they are left on the mound, while the rest of the meat is cooked and eaten in the bush the ritual expert by the men who have accompanied is not eaten, is either performing the ceremony. Whatever buried in a hole or thrown into a pond.77 method Like Basi and Klempe, many ritual experts regard this of destroying an object as much safer and infinitely preferable to burning itor casting it into a river, because they have no doubt that the termites will carry the nyama of the mask or boli directly back to the djinns inhabiting the mound. These insects' extraordinary social

would 77. Mr. Mara which had been on 8/5/2000. communicated given all of the preceding Coulibaly,

him by Klempe

information, to me in a phone

an not remove into a river would its ny?ma?it object source of power leave a dangerous in the water merely floating and waiting to find it and for someone it. Placement possibly misuse on a termite mound assures that the insects will devour the wood and 78. Throwing thus destroy harming the object and liberate its ny?ma permanently without




RES 39 SPRING 2001

and gives it to the girl's mother. The young woman's mother wraps the clitoris inwhite, carded cotton, carries itout into the bush, and "slides it into the hole of an in secret.79 In 1984, Salimata antheap" (ntinkiny?so), Kone said that when a woman gives birth to a deformed take the dies, elderly ritual experts would child and abandon it far out into the bush on top of an anthill (Brett-Smith 1994:130-131 ).80 Because black ants are able to carry off a farmer's entire harvest to their anthill in a single night, and because their they continue activity after dark, the Bamana believe that these insects are the agents of negative forces destructive the spirit world.81 Thus, while the masks and ritual that have been created by men to maintain objects human fertility are returned to the termites, the miraculous messengers flesh and the deformed that seems monstrous antithetical of abundance in child who

the carving briefly at the rules that, in the past, governed was a detailed examination of sculpture. However, it of the creation and use of mud-dyed excision cloths which in a charged that soaking an object suggested liquid be the fundamental mechanism for endowing it might at menstrual with ny?ma. With this inmind, we looked entire function is defined by their whose cloths?objects found that not only are they absorptive capacity?and the only things in the Bamana and Malinke world with greater ny?ma than the most powerful sculptures, but that they appear to function, at least on a subliminal for any ritual object. The level, as primal models examination of the beliefs about the source of a cloth's extraordinary that the power suggested and Malinke material object used perceive any to create "art" as intrinsically porous. Wood, and even human skin, are in some sense no different than cloth because that they, too, are able to absorb key substances will imbue them with ny?ma. We then found that certain sacred objects, such as Komo masks, display the inwhich substances they are soaked, creating startling Bamana displays of exuviae, while others, such as the Daba, are endowed with power by the rumors and oral traditions looked at the end point that surround them. Finally, we one continuous of what is, for the Bamana, trajectory of artistic production?the of those deliberate destruction medicines created by man. terrifying of a sacred object on a termite The slow disintegration the return of its ny?ma to the depths of the earth mound, is a profound gesture which allows us to see that, in the Bamana world "art," like human beings, ultimately finds its finishing point, its resting place in the ground. A long used menstrual cloth, whose owner suddenly feels that is too intense to keep hiding it the shredded rag's power into the bush in her mattress, will be taken some way and buried in secret. The elderly guardian of a Komo sons and whose mask who senses his death approaching have refuse to sacrifice to the headdress because they toWahabite converted Islam, will carry it far into the to be destroyed by bush and leave iton a termite mound mounds nature. The termites, those enigmatic messengers whose to the presence of spirits and underground testify streams, will eat the mask piece by piece, carrying its it came. power safely back to the spirits from whence menstrual

and prosperity, the bodies that represent a vitality in its uselessness, are, in an

gesture, entrusted to the ants. This in ritual treatment seems to confirm, on striking parallel a basic structural level, the Bamana truism that the the single sacred object female sex is, for women, whose power exactly balances that of the ritual objects by men. artificially constructed exactly the trajectory of an 'art' have now followed fabrication by a carver, ritual from itsmanual object expert, or mud cloth artist to its 'death' and burial in the earth. We have seen that the physical production of a is only the first step in a process of sacred object creation that may be drawn out over months, years, and We the centuries as the "medicine" accumulates or ny?ma, that enables In it to act in the world. energy, an effort to analyze looked the stockpiling of ny?ma we even

79. French

Interview with translation.

Balo, (98-30), 6/22/98, pp. 62-63 cotton The carded cotton resembles Western Tlasun

of wool. kill

80. The djinns associated with massively deformed infants will tries to bury such a child and does not have sufficient anyone who ritual knowledge 81. My work with to protect himself. female elders

an association strongly suggests power of the black ants and a fertility gone a Minianka However, elder, Tempere Dembele, wrong. conceptualized in terms of greater termite mounds and anthills the difference between This elder said that affairs that were deeply and lesser problems. to the spirits of termite mounds, but that serious would be brought between the destructive lesser problems and objects would also reported that "male problems" "female determine their view problems" to the black how the Bamana exactly of black ants. be entrusted were confided research to the black ants. He and to from to the termites is necessary differs

ants. More


of termites

Then, and only then, are the production of ny?ma and if it is to succeed, the mask itself, "finished." Production, its must encompass the destruction of the art object, restored to the elemental matrix from ny?ma safely it came. which

Brett-Smith: When

is an object finished?


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