Monumental Senufo Wooden Sculpture of a Bird, Northern Ivory Coast / Mali, Early to Mid 20th Century. Some professional repair and some wear due to age. Otherwise in excellent condition. 61" H x 18" W x 16" D. Bird figures are among the many art forms associated with Poro, a society of initiated Senufo men. Poro functions as a system of governmental and economic control, preparing young men for their roles as adults and serving as a channel for the worship of ancestors and of Ancient Mother, one of the two principal Senufo deities. Within the society there is a series of grades though which groups of initiates pass at six- or seven-year intervals. Poro activities center around initiations of new members, the elevation of members to higher grades, and funerals.
In some Senufo villages, the bird sculptures are kept in the sacred grove of Poro, where they stand guard protecting the members. During initiations and some funeral rituals, they are carried in processions and are sometimes worn on the head in dramatic displays of strength. Poro and its art forms continue to play roles in Senufo society, although the bird figures have become rare. Senufo bird figures refer to both the physical and intellectual aspects of life, which together assure the continuation of the community. The long, phallic beak touching the swollen belly suggestive of pregnancy alludes to the dual forces of male and female procreation. The yellow-casqued hornbill, one of the species found in the Senufo area, is considered the master among birds and a symbol of intellectual power. Its yellow head is equated with the red caps worn by Poro elders, who, like the bird, embody wisdom and authority. The birds' rectangular, outstretched wings are painted or carved in relief with geometric designs or images of snakes, lizards, other animals, or human figures. These motifs serve as didactic tools, referring the initiate to the wealth of knowledge embodied by Poro.