- Côte d'Ivoire
About the Artist
This drum was carved by a Senufo [seh-NOO-foe] artist. The Senufo live in small communities throughout Mali and the Ivory Coast in West Africa. They are known as excellent farmers with a very strong sense of community. Often, the land is worked collectively, with every family contributing to the good of the community. The communities are organized into a caste-like system, with farmers at the top and musicians at the bottom. Carvers, along with other artists like blacksmiths and potters, belong to a special social caste and live apart from the rest of the community. Training to become a carver takes about seven or eight years. Carvers start as apprentices, making secular objects, and must go through a kind of initiation before they can begin to produce ritual objects. The role of an artist is inherited through a mother.
What Inspired It
Drums like this are both musical instruments and works of sculpture. The Senufo use music for much more than entertainment. Music is an important part of everyday life and plays a significant role in work, celebrations, healing, and rituals. Drums are used in ceremonial functions like funerals or memorials to summon ancestor spirits. This drum is covered in images that reference proverbs, cultural traditions, ways of behaving, and values that are important to the community. Animals play an important role in the Senufo belief system and ancestor spirits can take the form of any animal. Animals often serve as a source of inspiration for carvers. (Check out the "Details" section for more information on the individual carvings.)
The top of the drum is covered in hide and tightened with straps. This is what produces the sound.
The python is one of the most common Senufo motifs. He is associated with divination. Bracelets with python imagery are traditionally worn by diviners, who foretell future events and interpret omens.
The Senufo consider the crocodile to be one of the first creatures to inhabit the earth.
The image of the two-headed crocodile refers to an ancient myth from Ghana. The story tells of a crocodile with two heads who would argue over which would eat the food they caught first. One day they finally recognized their need to share.
Senufo diviners advise farmers to sacrifice chickens and communicate with spirits in the fields. This drum shows a figure with a bird and possibly a sacrificial bowl.
The padlock is usually a statement about power and control. Locks are standard devices imported from the north.
Some fish are sacred and not to be eaten. Certain fish represent wealth and happiness.
The hornbill was the mythological founder of the Senufo people and is considered a noble bird. Hornbills mate for life and share equally in the raising of their young, whom they protect by spreading their wings.
These birds are usually shown with their heads turned back. They represent the message “pick it up if it falls behind,” which means if you have forgotten something, you can return to retrieve it; or that mistakes can be corrected; or that one must look back to the past to make good decisions for the present and future.
The blacksmith is shown with a hammer, anvil, and bellow. The blacksmith was viewed as an artisan with magical connections to fire and transformation.