Hornbill Statue/ Headdress (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

19th–20th century
wood, paint, iron
Côte d'Ivoire
Overall: 52 1/4 × 21 1/2 × 18 1/2 in. (132.72 × 54.61 × 46.99 cm)

In Senufo myth, a great bird was present when man and woman were created, so the bird is sometimes referred to as “the first ancestor.” In some Senufo villages a large statue of a hornbill-like bird stands in a sacred grove, overseeing the rituals that are performed there. Like many African animal statues and masks, this hornbill statue’s upright stance humanizes it.

This impressive work is both statue and headdress. Its base is hollowed out to make it easier for an initiate to hoist this sixty-pound statue aloft and carry it on his head in a procession of the Lo society, a male organization whose main concerns are ancestors and unity within the family and the village. The statue is also a factor in the male Poro society, which focuses on the instruction of young men. In this context the bird is known as “mother of the Poro child,” linking it with the elders, or “mothers,” who take responsibility for the young initiates. This maternal aspect is suggested by the bird’s swollen abdomen and the young birds perched on its outstretched wings.

Gift of Robert and Nancy Nooter
Spirit of the Motherland. September 1994. May 2000. June 2004.
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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