Collection

Hornbill with Figures

Hornbill with Figures

Baga, Guinea
Late 19th Century,
Pigment, Wood, 39 in.

This large, full-bodied sculptural figure of a Hornbill is often referred to by the Baga as an a-Bamp or a-Bemp, which literally translates to 'the bird.' Seen by many cultures as a symbol of fertility and prosperity, the hornbill often accompanies harvest festivals. Young men and boys wear this form of headdress as initiation into ceremonial presentation. Similar headdresses depicting the hornbill and other birds are more stylized and abstract, thinner and lighter, and are worn on the forehead while hunting. The hunters mimic the up and down movements of the birds and blend into the flock unnoticed. These movements are similar to those performed in the dance, with the young men jumping from left to right and bobbing their heads as though they are socializing among the flock.

Accompanying the large sculpture are two smaller hornbills and three human figures, atop the broad, tri-colored back of this Baga-style a-Bamp. This style of grouping is traditional to the a-Bamp and not only are smaller birds and human figures found, but also sometimes geometric shapes, houses, and serpents -- another animal commonly found in Baga designs. The two female figures are most likely references to fertility due to their form and pose, but the male figure is unique. Due to his bent posture and the style of his clothing, this male figure reveals clues as to possible connections to Colonial Era Africa and was most likely designed by a Baga artisan and used as decoration for a tourist destination. Incorporating traditional styles and motifs, along with hospitality imagery, this intriguing sculpture offers a glimpse into the past of two intersecting cultures.

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