Senufo
Côte d'Ivoire
Ceremonial Drum (Pinge)
1930/50

Wood, hide, and applied color
122.9 x 49.2 cm (48 3/8 x 19 3/8 in.)
Robert J. Hall, Herbert R. Molner Discretionary, Curator's Discretionary, and African and Amerindian Art Purchase funds; Arnold Crane, Mrs. Leonard Florsheim, O. Renard Goltra, Holly and David Ross, Departmental Acquisitions, Ada Turnbull Hertle, and Marion and Samuel Klasstorner endowments; through prior gifts of various donors, 1990.137

This sculpture depicting a woman gracefully balancing a drum on her head also functions as a drum. Played by women, drums such as this one not only provide powerful percussion but also confirm the contributions of women to Senufo society through their thought-provoking sculptural forms. The female figure balances the load on her head with powerful, upraised arms, a rigidly arched back, and a strong neck. She sits on a stool with her feet well off the ground, a position of honor and praise. Scarification marks, bracelets, and carefully coiffed hair further identify her as a woman of status.

The image of the female figure carries profound importance for the matrilineal Senufo of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Women are the founders of families, and they play significant roles in influential initiation associations such as Sandogo and Tyekpa. Sandogo is a society of women (and some men) who act as spiritual mediators and practice divination. Tyekpa is a special women’s funerary society of the Fodombele-Senufo.

Important sculptures such as this one are made by male sculptors who belong to one of several specialized and hereditary artisan groups. The drum is decorated in bas-relief with animals and human figures that also have symbolic significance. A crocodile “bites” a section of the drum’s decorative border, a snake devours a fish, and a smaller one attacks a water turtle. The human figures include a man on horseback holding a spear and a victorious warrior holding manacles, a type of handcuff formerly used in slave raids. These images depict themes of opposition and conflict in a world of competing forces. They suggest male power and complement the idealized female accomplishments represented in the supporting female figure.