Kònò Helmet Mask

Date: 19th–mid-20th century

Geography: Mali

Culture: Bamana peoples

Medium: Wood, sacrificial materials

Dimensions: H. 11 1/2 x W.13 3/4 x D. 37 in. (29.2 x 34.9 x 94 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Stolper, 1959

Accession Number: 1978.412.362


In 1910, the Abbé Henry, a French missionary, included photographs of helmet masks that belonged to local chapters of the kònò power association in a book on Bamana rites practiced in what is today the country of Mali. With its elongated form, prominent ears, and encrusted surface, this mask resembles the ones Henry published. Kònò masks are often distinguished by those features, as well as an absence of horns, tusks, feathers, and porcupine quills that cover the helmet masks associated with the kòmò organization. Kònò leaders, like their counterparts in kòmò, develop profound knowledge of the region's flora and fauna and manipulate organic and inorganic materials to protect their communities. The kònò chapter that owned this helmet mask affixed to its surface a wrapped bundle of materials. The bundle's contents remain indiscernible to the spectator not privy to the closely guarded knowledge that kònò members acquire and command. The incorporation of such matter into the otherwise seemingly bare mask draws attention to a kònò chapter's ability to locate and use powerful materials in its arts.