Staff: Female Figure

Date: 19th–20th century

Geography: Mali

Culture: Bamana peoples

Medium: Iron

Dimensions: H. 65 3/16 x W. 6 3/4in. (165.7 x 17.2cm)

Classification: Metal-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.223


This Bamana staff, or ceremonial spear, while fabricated in the nineteenth or twentieth century, is a good example of the type of objects produced by blacksmiths as early as the fourteenth century. Bamana staffs are almost always figural and though they may possess sacred names, publicly they are simply called "iron women." They are often carried by those who have purchased an important village title, or are of high rank. They may also be commissioned by members of either the Jo or Gwan initiation associations, to be placed in the ground around altars in the sacred groves or in shrine houses. Among the Mande, similar staffs are presented to young men at the conclusion of their initiations and as part of circumcision rituals. As spears were the primary weapons used for both war and hunting before the introduction of guns, they continue to be considered an important symbol of manhood. Staffs often receive offerings of millet, water, or beer, which are poured over the works during ceremonies. This can lead to the heavy rusting found on even relatively recent examples.