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Senufo seated female side view.png

Pombibele, Female Figure, Senufo, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Wood, 43”

Gift of Mrs. Corine Thompson

CAT 2017 CR 36

The Senufo of Cote d’Ivoire social structure includes the Poro age-grade society that is responsible for the initiation of young boys as they transition into adulthood. Young initiates spend weeks and even months together in secluded sacred groves where they developed the survival skills and intellectual foundation to prepare them for adulthood. Senior Poro members instruct initiates in the work of poro, also referred to as work for Old Mother, the female aspect of the supreme deity and protector of Poro initiates. Scholars have also identified many large figurative sculptures with links to Poro associations that represent the Old Mother who aids in the initiation ceremony of young boys.  


In some communities, Poro associations acquired larger figures known as pombibele (sing. pombia), or “children of poro.” In the mid- to late twentieth century, communities displayed pombibeleas static works of sculpture and animated them in performance. The figures sometimes stood on the ground during a ceremony for a deceased Poro elder or larger funerary ceremonies dedicated to all the deceased elders in a community. On other occasions, Poro initiates carried pombibele as they walked, tapping the large figures on the ground.  The distinct feature of the Old Mother include scarification on the body, focusing on the naval (reference to birth), and her face, elongated face with closed eyes full lips and nose as well as elaborate hairstyle, all to emphasize femininity, power and beauty.


Source:  Metropolitan Museum of Art

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