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Baga Bansonyi Snakes

Around 50,000 Baga live along the coastal lagoons of southern Guinea-Bissau. They mainly grow rice in this marshy area that is flooded six months out of the year, during which time the only way to get around is by canoe. Generally, the Baga village is divided into two halves or clans but can contain up to eight. The two main clans are called Kamana and Bangura. Traditionally each village was headed by the eldest member of each clan, who met secretly. Baga art first appeared in the western art world after the Baga conversion to Islam and abandoned the traditional ways in 1950. Today, with the help of village elders, the Baga are creating a resurgence of historical pride, in tribal customs, festivities and beliefs and their art. In accordance with tribal customs, as with most African tribes, the majority of Baga art is dedicated to religious-magical-social ceremonies and daily practice. It is believed that the power of a statue or mask is more real than that of a living being. The Baga like most Africans, have an intimate relationship with animals as evidenced in the cross-linking of man and animals in sculptural design. The Baga Snake, “Bansonyi,” normally displayed as an upright static sculpture is in reality a headdress representing the spirit “A-Mantshonga-Tshol.” With the help of a light framework, the towering polychrome decorated serpent is held on the shoulders of a dancer. concealed beneath a raffia covering. This dressing is detailed with multi-sized bells, lavish colorful feathers and tribal cloths. The dancer moves rapidly among the cries of the on lookers, shaking and twirling around to create confusion, agitation and dramatic motion during the performance. The Bansonyi is involved in protecting male initiates at circumcision; it is used during droughts as well as appearing at funerals in groups as a male and female pair. It is thought that the Bansonyi itself symbolizes a reconciliation between the aquatic world and the jungle, between east and west or the two halves of the village. This artistic marvel is coveted by collectors. Round serpentine curves are most desirable and adds value to the structure. Please click photo for enlargement! We offer these selections in a variety of sizes, from 12 inches tall to over 7 feet tall. Pricing is determined by size and curvature.

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