Dogon Bafalon Players Figure

  • Tribe: Dogon
  • Origin: Mali
  • Approx Age: Early - Mid 20th
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: 59 tall x 34 wide 31 depth
  • Ref. Number: 0338

A nice old Dogon bafalon players figure from Mali. This figure has a  an aged and eroded patina, and very little insect damage. It has a few age cracks but stable ,A really beautiful item.  I have put the mobile phone in one of the shots to show the size of this impressive figure. This was purchased from a gallery in France. These two figures are depicted playing the balafon, a type of xylophone composed of a series of wooden slats attached to gourd resonators. Balafons are uncommon in Dogon communities, and it is believed that this sculpture may have come from Mételli, one of the few Dogon villages known to incorporate the instrument in ceremonial life. It has been suggested that this specific work depicts musicians playing at the funerary rituals of a hogon, the spiritual and political leader of the community, and that the work itself was likely exhibited at such times. On these unique occasions, the instruments played are special balafons known as gingiru.

Balafon Players: The balafon consists of planks of wood of varying lengths and thickness’s tied to an oblong frame; dried gourds, are fastened to the planks. As the balafon player strikes the planks, the vibrations resonate inside the gourds underneath. One can find balafon players at a wedding or a party, in a market, or at school. The instrumental music will most likely be accompanied by songs – historic or contemporary – intended to instruct or simply to amuse.

The work may also refer to a series of events related in the epic narratives surrounding the formation of the Mali empire (ca. 1230), many of whose inhabitants migrated to villages such as Mételli in subsequent centuries. According to these oral histories, a balafon player had a central role in the defeat of the Soso kingdom and its invincible ruler Soumaworo. In a ruse, Mali’s ruler Sundiata Keita sent his sister Sologon and the court musician Bala Fasséké Kouyaté to Soso as spies to discover the source of Soumaworo’s power. Through Sologon’s beauty and Kouyaté’s masterful balafon playing, they learned Soumaworo’s secret and Keita defeated him on the battlefield. Keita rewarded Kouyaté with the captured royal balafon of Soso. Given that balafons are typically played by one individual, the association of two figures with this instrument may be a reference to Sologon and Bala Fasséké Kouyaté, and their important contribution to the region’s history.

Reference: Met Museum