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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : African Art / Bambara Boli
African Art / Bambara Boli - PF.5866
Origin: Mali
Circa: 1870 AD to 1940 AD
Dimensions: 22" (55.9cm) high x 10" (25.4cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Mixed Media

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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Although they are considered to be secret objects, boliw (sing. boli) have ironically become one of the representative examples of Mande art. The term Mande refers both to a West African language and culture that includes many ethnic groups, among them the Bambara (also known as the Bamana). Boliw harbor huge quantities of energy (nyama) that can be activated by the association priests and members of secret initiation societies to help accomplish goals such as destroying anti-social sorcerers. They also serve as symbols of the universe, and initiated members help make them by bringing together a wide range of often esoteric ingredients, including animal bones, vegetable matter, honey, and pieces of metal. Their surfaces are hard encrusted with thick coatings of earth mixed with sacrificial materials such as the blood of chickens or goats, chewed and expectorated kola nuts, alcoholic beverages, and millet. Both the surface and interior are created by enacting a complex array of the power recipes called daililuw. Thus these objects are considered to be among the most potent of all Mande sculptures. Many boliw seem to depict animals such as hippopotami or cows, and some are shaped like human beings. Sometimes, however, it is impossible to suggest what they might be. This abstract quality fits with the Mande principle that very powerful things are opaque to general human understanding, and only the initiate is able to fully comprehend them. For others, the lack of understanding is ominous, and the murky ambiguity articulated in the shapes serves as a warning to stay away or risk great personal danger. Only skilled professionals are capable of engaging the powers contained in these instruments. While some Mande feel they are apotropaic devices that benefit both the association and the greater community, others find them loathsome and fearsome objects possessing powers that dominate the members of the associations. Still others consider them to be just one more element in their social and spiritual landscapes, sometimes to be used, sometimes to be treated cautiously. - (PF.5866)


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