Object 1. N’Tomo Mask

June 1, 2021


Culture is widely believed to be influential on one’s knowledge-related behaviours of individuals and can often be used as a reason to explain someone’s actions. This mask was and is still utilized today by the Bambara people of West Africa in male initiation ceremonies. Before the boys can be referred to as men, they must pass through six initiation ceremonies. For each ceremony, a different mask is used and the N’Tomo mask is the one used in the first ceremony.

This mask is interesting because it shows the knowledge that can be transmitted from other cultures. Preceding the ceremony, the boys were taught lessons to prepare for becoming a ‘man’. The mask’s purpose is to reinforce those disciplinary lessons and to remind them of their preparation for the ceremony. The relationship between knowledge and culture in this object can be interpreted through the knowledge that the boys gained when preparing to become men; they learned information that could not have been learned without preparing for this rite of passage.

In addition, the boys are lacking knowledge about other initiation societies before undergoing their own ceremony. Some people say that the number of horns on the mask is to represent the level of increased knowledge depending on the initiation stages. This confirms that through every stage the boys pass, they gain more and more knowledge. This leaves open the question of how much knowledge they gained after they have successfully passed their initiation ceremony. It can also be assumed that once they are a man, they start to learn about other societies and what their ceremonies and culture looks like. Therefore, the knowledge that the boys are gaining is the knowledge of cultures other than their own.

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