Initiation Amongst the Bamana And Mende People.

Initiation Amongst the Bamana And Mende People.
Initiation is a rite of passage which is an orderly transition from childhood to adulthood. The age at which a person is initiated differs from one ethnic group to another, usually ranging between the ages of 10 and 16. Different African tribes perform the ceremony differently. The time for the occurrence of the initiation ritual is dictated by specific members of the community or language group. The initiates are instructed and prepared for their roles in the ceremony. These teachings serve as guidelines that prepare them for their life as an adult in the community. The Mande and the Bamana people have a broad and exclusive way of holding this ceremony. Art plays a significant role, and is used to make the initiates aware of the responsibilities that come with adult life.
Amongst the Bamana people, blacksmiths make staffs forged from iron in preparation for the ceremony. These are slender metal rods created in secret and shaped with fire and charged with nYame. Meanwhile, religious associations (known as the “Jo”) handle the entire process. Leaders of Jo present the initiates with a variety of objects, including the iron staff and sculptural groups such as the “bias nege,” which is a sculpture of an appropriate image of Jo that demonstrates the heroism, occult power, and accomplishment of a leader. Some wear masks carved in wood and decorated with cowrie shells, blood-red seeds or shining brass, alluding to the principles of conducting what they are taught. These arts and symbols represent important principles of the tribe, in addition to the sources of Jo’s godly power.
To mark the end of the initiation, young men celebrate their achieved status and familiarity by playing traditional music for the people in their hometown. Afterwards, they depart from their hometown and pay homage to other neighboring families where they meet future potential wives. They perform theatrical skits, complete with costumes and musical instruments. It is during this performance that the young blacksmiths carry wooden figures dressed in beautiful clothing and jewelry. These are called the “jonyeleni” (pretty little one of Jo). Through this, the young men are initiated into adulthood.
Similarly, the Mende people perform initiation ceremonies for their young girls who come of age. The young girls receive lessons on hard work, behavioral modesty, especially towards elders, and married life, offered by the “Sande” society (a secret society). When the initiates complete the exercise, they are presented to the people as fully grown-up women. The Sande groups conduct the masked performance that embodies the Sande guardian spirit, who is associated with water and rivers. The Sande guardian is their protector and guides the girls through adult life and motherhood.
The initiated young women wear helmet masks to emphasize their high status and exquisite growing. It has a shiny, black surface. Its black color is designed to resemble the girl’s beautiful skin during the dancing exercise. There is the personification of masking through its iconography, costuming and choreography. The mask is worn during special rituals, and initiation ceremonies and the mask have a broad implication within the people of Mende. It has an elaborate hairstyle, with small facial features and a full head. Its glossy surface is a sign of health and glowing skin. Its fat rolls represent beauty and are marked with deep incisions lined both at the back and the neck. According to Sande leaders, the mask is commissioned in secret.
Thus, art features prominently in the initiation ceremonies of most African tribes. It serves as a medium to celebrate their cultural and spiritual beliefs, and to pass on these values to the young members of the adult community. The process of initiation is aimed at producing hard-working, responsible young women and men and welcoming them into the community, with the view of having the best examples of leaders in the coming generations.