Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Male Poro Altar Figure (Ndeo)

19th–mid-20th century
Côte d'Ivoire, Korhogo, Bandama River
Senufo peoples
Wood, pigment
H. 23 1/2 x W. 5 3/8 x D. 4 1/2in. (59.7 x 13.6 x 11.4cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 350
Pair with 1979.206.194

Men's poro and women's sandogo associations commit themselves to the physical and spiritual well-being of Senufo communities. Although divination in northern Côte d'Ivoire is most often associated with sandogo women, not all diviners are members of the organization. Senior poro members and other enterprising men also establish divination practices. The height of this sculptural pair suggests that the pair served as spirit figures on an altar belonging to a senior member of poro. Sculptures on divination altars reflect the status, prestige, and skill of their owners and appeal to spiritual intermediaries. This pair of spirit figures, or ndebele (sing.: ndeo), differs from the taller pombibele (sing.: pombia) sculptures that poro members carry in procession or place in a central courtyard during funeral and commemorative ceremonies for deceased poro elders.

The female figure in this pair stands taller than its male companion, reflecting an aesthetic choice common in Senufo sculpture. Artists elevate the stature of the female form to honor women and allude to their maternal roles in poro, an initiation cycle that transforms uninitiated boys into productive adults. Membership in poro is largely male and in sandogo is largely female. The arts and practices of both institutions demonstrate the interdependence of both genders.
[Aaron Furman Gallery, New York, until 1960]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1960, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1960–1978

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 277.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 193b.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 174.

Glaze, Anita J. "The Children of Poro: A re-examination of the Rhythm-Pounder in Senufo Art, its Form and Meaning." Connaissance des Arts Tribaux, Bulletin publie par l'association des amis du Musée Barbier-Müller vol. 20 (1983), pp. 1–6.

Förster, Till. Die Kunst der Senufo: Museum Rietberg Zürich aus Schweizer Sammlungen. Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 1988.

Glaze, Anita J. "17. Senufo, Poro society female figure and 18. Senufo, Poro society professional figure." In Art of Côte d'Ivoire from the collections of the Barbier-Mueller Museum, edited by Jean-Paul Barbier. Vol. vol. 2. Geneva: Musée Barbier-Mueller, 1993, pp. 54-85 [N.B. See especially Fig. 79, p. 79 and the accompanying caption on p. 78.].

Glaze, Anita J. "Pillars of the Community: Memorial figures for Ancestral and Recently Deceased 'Children of Poro' [Pombibele]." In Constellations: Studies in African Art, edited by Marie-Thérèse Brincard. Vol. vol. 1. Purchase: Neuberger Museum of Art, State University of New York at Purchase, 2009.

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