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L. Pescador, 1995

 

 

 

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THE TOMA/LOMA AND THEIR MASKS

By Vittorio Carini

 

 

               

 

Descendants of the farming and hunting population of the Mande, the previously named Buzi people, (now politically divided into three different states), are now known as the Toma and Loma. The Toma inhabit the forest areas of Eastern Guinea (Macenta Area), and the Loma the North-West of Liberia (Lofa County) and South-Eastern Sierra Leone.

The Toma/Loma, estimated at a population of about 150,000, adopted the sacred male fellowship of  the “Poro” from remote times, as did many other populations from the Gulf of Guinea. This important group plays a decisive role in all aspects of their social, political and religious daily lives.

It must be pointed out that the Poro seems to have originated in its most traditional form exactly in the area inhabited by the

Toma/Loma, and was then to spread to many other tribes such as the Gbandi, the Kpelle, the Mano and the Senufo.

It is therefore interesting to note that Andrea Alvares de Almada had already described the performance of the final ritual in a Poro session in his "Tratado short dos rios de Guiné do Cabo Verde", sometime prior to 1594.

The Poro ceremonial site is the sacred forest, which lies in the vicinity of each village, concealed from prying eyes. Other than the initiates and priests, no one is allowed to enter the site, nor to reveal its well-hidden secrets. Any unscrupulous "rabatteurs-charlies" of African art who dared to raid the site of its masks and sacred objects, taking advantage of the harvest season which saw all the village’s labour-worthy men engaged in work, were hunted down with a vengeance.

The distant sound of beating drums followed them on their flight path through the forest, and once captured, the thieves were mercilessly slain.

 

                   

 

Closely linked to the Poro fellowship, the wooden dance masks of the Toma/Loma possess a strict formal geometry in their volume. The masks not only serve religious purposes, but also play a role in social control.

Mentioned below are some of the most important examples.

The wooden angbai or nyangbai mask represents one of several incarnations of the Supreme Being, Afwi.

From the large horizontal surface of the face, accentuated by the absence of a mouth, the distinct protrusion of the nose extends from beneath a dominant forehead where three horn-shaped features adorn the top of the mask.

 Studded metal strips can sometimes be found decoratively criss-crossing over the planes of the face. The mask-wearer’s impressive costume is made of feline or monkey furs. The angbai customarily accompanies the young future initiates into the forest, the sacred and exclusive Poro domain. On completion of the initiation rituals, the angbai then escorts the young men back to the village.

 

               

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

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