The Bissagos Islands on the Atlantic coast of Guinea-Bissau are home to the Bidjogo peoples. Similar to other African peoples, the Bidjogo possess unique forms of art. The dugn’be “the ox raised in the village” mask is a rather intriguing piece of art. The mask is commonly used in initiation ceremonies. This mask, made in the second quarter of the twentieth century, is an excellent example of how wonderful African art is. The piece is 15 ? by 19 by 9 inches. Many would consider the art life-sized, or slightly smaller. A wide variety of materials were used in its construction.
Although much of the bull is comprised of wood, elements such as glass, cow horns, fiber, and pigment have been specifically arranged to mimic a real bull. The majority of the piece is black and white, with the exception of the ivory colored horns. The core is primarily black, while the triangle on the forehead and mouth region are white. Its black tongue mimics a licking motion. The contrast of black and white really defines the piece and makes it stand out. The bull’s rather rough appearance not only shows true character of a bull, but also adds richness to the overall piece.
The fierceness and intense nature of the bull are significant characteristics in the Bidyogo initiation process. In terms of composition, the piece is relatively symmetrical. The pair of horns consist of ivory, a set of eyes, and an upside down triangle in the center of the forehead. The horns are one of the more distinctive elements of the piece, and really grab the viewer’s eyes. The ivory horns’ tips are covered in black paint. They really give the art more character, and make it more aesthetically pleasing. The glassy eyes look like craters, and protrude from the face approximately two inches.
The small rope running through the bull’s nostrils also give the piece a sense of uniqueness. This cord is not only for appearances, but also to help the performer to keep control of the mask. All components in unison make the dugn’be mask a truly remarkable piece of African history. The significance of the bull mask dates back to the late fifteenth century, but its importance particularly gained momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Belligerent villages began stealing stock from one another, and foreign traders started borrowing cattle on credit.
The occurrences only stiffened existing tension generated from social and political issues. When French sailors refused to pay an important debt to the Bidyogo, chaos ensued. The sailors were taken as prisoners by the Bidyogo people. The French responded by attacking the inhabitants of Caravela, one of the Bissagos Islands. Practically all of the villages were burned to the ground. Tension would not deteriorate until the French demanded a treaty from the king. Whose king? The Bidyogo society, like most African societies, has many rituals.
Each Bidyogo member of society is said to have come from one of four legendary families: Oracuma, Oraga, Ogubane, and Ominca. Descendants of the same families allegedly belong to the same “Generation. ” Each of the Bissagos Islands are known for having Bidyogo members from the same “Generation. ” A majority of the islands are represented by an elder-selected chief. Aside from the different “Generations,” the society is broken down into a hierarchal grade system known as Manratche. The grading system is used in the initiation process.
The headdresses and costumes society play a role in signifying the various age classes in the Bidyogo. The three age grades among the Bidyogo people are canhoca, cabaro, and the camabi. Canhoca is for the adolescents in society. Those in the canhoca are leaving childhood and beginning to focus more on the community. Lightweight headdresses are worn, which typically depict a fish or calf. The cabaro society is the next grade level in the Bidyogo society. This grade lasts for ten years. Members in cabaro have not gone through initiation, so are not yet considered responsible adults yet.
Cabaro is the society in which the dugn’be mask plays a crucial role. Although a wild bull is commonly depicted, other aggressive animals such as hippopotamuses, sharks, swordfish, and others are used. These heavy helmet masks are accompanied by an array of accessories. Decorative skirts made from raffia, belts, bells, and arm guards are all part of the costume. A cylindrical neck, which is carved separately from the mask, is attached to the rope that goes through the bull’s nostrils. Sticks with dozens of bells and large drums are pounded during the performances.
Cabaros move with an uncontrolled violence. The imitation of a bull mask performer often consists of horn blows, and chasing around other dancers. The violent movements represent the aggressive nature of the animals being portrayed, and the reckless nature of post-adolescent life. The bull’s upward pointing tongue is also key when discussing the character of the bull. Similar to the initiates’ actions, the tongue is said to represent the wild nature within the character. As mentioned, the small rope running through the nostrils of the dugn’be mask helps the initiate ontrol the mask.
However, the rope historically represents how the initiate is like a tethered ox. His strengths must be encouraged and controlled to show he can tame the bull’s beastly temperament. This proves he is ready for the next phase in his life. Despite the dugn’be mask playing such a key role in the initiation process, it is usually abandoned after their initiation is complete. The abandonment of the mask is may represent the idea that adolescence is in the past. (Specify in endnotes) After the young men’s initiations, they enter the third and final grade camabi.
Changing one’s name is common in the camabi grade, which again may be representative of their adolescence being in the past. The young men are formally identified as adults, and now have the right to contribute to particular decisions (didn’t specify) within the Bidyogo society. The fact that the men have become adults do not mean that they stop paying respect to their elders, however. Elders are significant figures in many African cultures, and are treated with uttermost respect The Bidyogo society is persistent in emphasizing the importance of the elders. They typically honor them in the form of food and money.
Initiation masks do not only represent the transition to adulthood, but are vital to the lifelong goal of attaining the status of the ancestors. Similar to many other societies in Africa, the Bidyogo center much of their lives on their ancestors and creator God Nindu. Nindu is addressed in the form of “the Great Spirit” Orebuko-Okoto. The king in Bidyogo societies are equally important as kings from other cultures. In Bidyogo societies, he is the intermediary between the Bidyogo people and the Creator’s spirit. A male priest, called Oamcandjamo, also acts as a medium between the natural and spiritual.
He is the one who oversees the initiation ceremonies as adolescents pass into adulthood. Until the 1800’s, it was priestess called oquinka who was held responsible for such instances. In the modern day Bidyogo society, the oquinka has other responsibilities. She is typically appointed by the village’s king. Her responsibilities include maintaining the fire in Orebuko’s shrine at night, and keeping peace with Ira, the source of the ancestor’s soul. Guinea-Bissau ranks 175 out of 177 nations on the Human Development Index, as of 2008. Unfortunately, child mortality ates in Guinea-Bissau are rising.
The country has the eighth highest maternal mortality ratio in the world. As a result of these alarming statistics, young men do not always reach the initiation stage. People outside of the Bidyogo society may question why the initiation process is so important? Successfully being initiated in the Bidyogo society is more significant than one would think. Those who are uninitiated are forbidden from creating objects of religious worship, which are used to join Ancaredo. This is the afterworld where the departed become one with their creator Nindu.
The souls of the uninitiated become known as futiceiro. Futiceiro are thought to wander around, and seek revenge on those in the natural world. Even the soul’s family finds him as a threat. In these cases of misfortune, adolescent women finish the initiation of the young man in his honor during a lengthy process called fanado. Through this process, the deceased male can experience the initiation process and go to the world of the ancestors. Fanado is carried out in two phases over an average of two to three years. Fanado pequeno is the first phase in which the young women are assigned a soul to represent.
The three say retreat with the Bidyogo priestess typically takes place inside of a shrine. Phase two, fanado grande, does not occur until a year or two later. Fanado grande is the most important phase in the process. The young women wander off to an unidentified area in the forest. What happens here is uncertain due to the secrecy of the occurrence. After to top-secret getaway, the women return to the village to perform the ritual. The Bidyogo’s Oamcandjamo and oquinka carefully administer the ritual to make certain the ritual is safe. A loud cry from the women signifies that the futiceiro has overtaken her body.
While the young girl performs, she not only has a sacred relationship with the futiceiro, but also with God. After a rhythmically controlled performance, the woman falls to the ground from fatigue. The futiceiro has been saved from its hostile state. The concept of a woman playing out the role of a man is unheard of in other many African societies. Although women are highly respected in all African societies, men are typically have much more authority. Having women more involved arguably intensifies the strength of the Bidyogo society. The defunto performance is what balances the power between men and women in the Bidyogo society.