Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Male Poro Figure (Pombia)

19th–mid-20th century
Côte d'Ivoire, Région des Savanes, Lataha
Senufo peoples, Tyebara group
H. 42 1/2 x W. 8 13/16 x D. 10 1/2 in. (108 x 22.4 x 26.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 350
This male figure was carved by a master sculptor in northern Côte d'Ivoire as part of an idealized pairing. Known as pombibele (sing.: pombia), or "children of poro," such imposing male and female figures were the major sculptural forms commissioned by the poro association in Senufo communities of Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Burkina Faso. During funerals and commemorative ceremonies for distinguished association members, male figures like this one stood with female companions evoking a primordial couple. Sculptural pairs honored the deceased as they entered the society of ancestral spirits and recalled their lineage extending back to their earliest ancestors. On these occasions, poro members displayed pombibele figures in architectural settings or tapped them on the ground to the rhythm of drums in a procession.

Although poro is essentially a male institution, the most important ancestor invoked is a woman, the head of the poro chapter's founding matrilineage. Senufo artists often rendered female representations taller than their male companions. Their asymmetrical treatment of poro sculptural couples emphasizes the importance of women as matrices of life.

The male figure in the Museum's collection may have belonged to a poro sanctuary in or near the town of Lataha. The Swiss field collector and art dealer Emil Storrer reported seeing it there before 1953 and collecting it in the nearby town of Korhogo in 1953. Its female companion, collected at the same time, is now housed at the Rietberg Museum in Zürich. The displacement of these and other Senufo works occurred as a result of local communities' rejection of them and certain practices in favor of Massa, a widespread iconoclastic movement.
Collected by Emil Storrer in Korhogo, Région des Savanes, northern Côte d'Ivoire, in 1953; [Emil Storrer, Storrer Tribal Art, Zürich, Switzerland, until 1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–65; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–78

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. 274.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 122.

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, pp. 63-77 [N.B. See especially text on p. 67; contextual photographs, pp. 68-69/Abb. 20-21; and comparative images pp. 67, 70-74/Pls. 48, 49-55. Förster also notes where each sculpture has been published and collection information.].

Koloss, Hans-Joachim. Die Kunst der Senufo: Elfenbeinkuste. Berlin: Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin-Dahlem, 1990, p. 17, ill. 4.

Bochet, Gilbert. "The Poro of the Senufo." In Art of Côte d'Ivoire from the collections of the Barbier-Mueller Museum, edited by Jean-Paul Barbier. Vol. vol. 1. Geneva: Musée Barbier-Mueller, 1993.

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, Pg. 22.

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.

LaGamma, Alisa. "The Nelson Rockefeller Vision: In Pursuit of the Best in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 72 (2014), p. 17.

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