late 1800s-early 1900s
Wood (Nauclea pobeguinii) and paint
Overall: 148 cm (58 1/4 in.)
The Norweb Collection 1960.37
Traditionally, Baga society was ruled by village councils of elders who derived their power from their direct contact with spirit entities through lifelong initiation rituals and the accumulation of secret knowledge. Two different religious orders controlled initiations, providing the context for much Baga art. One was identified as female, the other as male, though only men belonged to both groups. Initiations in each order followed three stages, culminating in the revelation of the highest spirit being. This type of Baga headdress embodied the serpent spirit Ninkinanka, honored for giving rain, bestowing riches, and bringing forth children. The serpent figure would be placed on top of a conical framework of palm branches carried on a male dancer’s head. It appeared at the end of the first level of the initiation for boys and girls or just before the circumcision at the beginning of the boys’ initiation.
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