About the Object
Headdresses such as this are referred to as Bansonyi or a Mantsho- , a divine being based on the myth of the serpent spirit Ninkinanka. Ninkinanka is known as the spirit who gives rain, fertility and wealth. Anyone profiting from his aid will pay a hefty price. He is found as a youngster in the forest and as an adult in the swamps.The Baga believe he may manifest himself in many forms, including a rainbow since it marks waters.
The Baga and their cultural relatives feared the spiritual force from the Mantsho-ña-tshol. He is said to be more brightly colored and much larger than a typical boa. Dancing with such a headdress needed outstanding balance and strength. The performer would balance the headdress on top of their head while dancing and acutely moving about in a snake like fashion. Typically, the height of the headdress would vary anywhere up to 8 feet or more and would sometimes have eyes inset with glass. They were held on the shoulders of a dancer with the help of light framework and appeared in ceremonies in which clans of a quartier took part.
About the Baga People
“The Baga people, 45,000 in total, live along the coast of Guinea Bissau, in villages divided into between two and four quartiers, which are in turn divided into five or six clans. Traditionally, each village was heafed by the eldest member of each clan, who met secretly, but today this system is replaced by an elected mayor. Spiritually, they believe in a single god, known as Kanu, who is assisted by Somtup, a male spirit, and by A-Bol, a female spirit. Below them, the spirit A-Mantsho-nga-Tsol, who is often represented as a snake, serves as the patron of the lowest grades of the To-lom society which oversees the different initiation ceremonies.
So far, two types of Baga figure have been identified. The first, representing the A-Tsol spirit, is primarily among northern Baga people and is kept on the clan’s altar, guarded by the eldest man in the family. It has a conical base surmounted by a large head with a pointed beak-like chin. It is similar to the homonymous headdress described above, but the stylization is more exaggerated. The second type of figure represents either a man or a woman with a stylized head similar to the one seen in Nimba shoulder masks. These statues are thought to be the precursors of such masks, but unfortunately their function remains obscure.”
Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1998. Print.
Dave Dahl—CEO Discover African Art
Keywords: Baga, Guinea Bissau, Figure, snake, serpent