In the western grassfields of the Cameroon, flywhisks are carried and danced by the NGOIN female mask, which depicts the royal titled wife. They may also be danced by the male NAJA mask. In addition, flywhisks are often held by rulers as political symbols, and are used to gesture, direct activities, and call attention to oneself.
This elongated figure of a man wearing a loin cloth was used to strike a small bronze gong. The flattened arch projecting from the back of the head and neck, seen as an extension of the coiffure, was designed to administer the blows of percussion. Its simplified form demonstrates the basic conventions of Baule figural style: arms with long-fingered hands are carved in relief on the body, and bulbous legs are balanced by the curving back of the slender torso.
The word "altar" or "shrine" in the Yoruba language means both "face of the gods" and "threshold to the gods." An altar is a locus of worship, a point of connection, and the place of the "in-between" where life and death converge and this world meets the one beyond. For genetic reasons, Yoruba have the highest twinning rate of any human population. They honor deceased twins with altars like the one reconstructed here. An altar is a living art form that must be fed and cared for by devotees who leave offerings of food and sacrificial gifts in adoration of the departed. Twins who die in infancy have Ibeji figures such as these carved in their honor. Bearing and nourishing newborn twins is physically difficult and dangerous to the health of both mother and nuslings, and many do perish. The hope is that by honoring a twin that dies, its other will survive and flourish.
The principle carvers among the Dogon are blacksmiths, who also make weapons and agricultural implements. The form and stylized carving on this staff resemble a number of Dogon staffs, including the YO DOMMOLO. YO DOMMOLO are staffs which belong to the ritual thieves, or YONA, of Dogon villages. Every family head is considered a YONA, though younger individuals can be appointed as substitutes. "Ritual thievery" was instituted to commemorate the ancestral blacksmith's theft of fire, for humans, from the heavens, which was done with an open-mouthed stick. Thus, YO DOMMOLO are characterized by carved heads with open mouths, pointed ears, and a line of zigzags down the back. YONA are representative of the ancestral blacksmith. They each hold a portion of the life-force of the ancestral smith which, at a YONA's death, is given back through the YO DOMMOLO. Following the death of a YONA, YONA from the surrounding areas gather and dance with the staffs hung over their shoulders.
This pulley would have been suspended from the top of a horizontal loom, which is used only by men. Twine passing through the holes in the pulley's arms attached it to the heddlebar below, so that the weaver could easily raise and lower the bar to change the warp.
Carved with great sensitivity to surface beauty, this heddle pulley attests to the Senufo genius for impeccably designed and executed sculptural forms. Even small, ordinary objects are carefully crafted. This heddle pulley is in the form of a hornbill, one of the five primordial creatures. The other four are the chameleon, tortoise, serpent, and crocodile. Known by the Senufo as the diety Setien, the hornbill was, according to legend, the first animal killed by the Senufo for food. Its spring migrations heralded the commencement of the planting season. The heddle pulley is a functional object used in the weaving of cloth. The pulley through which the weaving string was passed has been lost on this example; only the holder remains.