Senufo N gambelemo Figure

  • Tribe: Senufo
  • Origin: Ivory Coast
  • Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: stands 69 tall
  • Ref. Number: 0962
£2800.00 RESERVED

Visually impacting Senufo N gambelemo Maternity Figure. This imposing, outstandingly carved figure of a mother and child/children represents the prominent Senufo deity known as ‘ Ancient Mother ‘. An exquisite, traditionally carved coiffure, usual facial scarification with the characteristic pouting mouth bearing teeth, Prominent   scarification to shoulders, breasts and naval. Every attention to detail has been taken showing carved traditional Senufo jewellery, necklace, top arm bangles, wrist and ankle bracelets. Sat on a typical Senufo four legged stool that also has its own incised carved decoration, feeding two young children whilst two other children are seated to the rear of the off this figure. This figure shows signs of old insect invasion and or aged related decay to the rear of the right arm, front of the coiffure where it touches her nose, right breast and leg. Age related cracks are present  but none of this takes away any of the true beauty of this absolutely stunning Senufo N gambelemo Maternity Figure.

senufo n gambelemo figure

Of all the themes within the African art world the mother-and-child is the most fundamental, widespread and important. These values stem from the simple fact that we are all children and we all were born of mothers. The image brings forward the great importance to the people that not only make but also to those who display it, knowing the purposes it reinforces the thoughts that sit deep within the African thoughts and beliefs.

senufo women and child
Photograph taken from The Complexity of Maternity in Africa by Herbert M Cole


Among some groups of the Senufo people in Ivory Coast the prominent deity being known as ‘ Ancient Mother ‘ is credited  with foundering much that is central of Senufo culture. As first mother she is the founder of matrilinearity and the patron of women. She also heads certain powerful male-dominated initiatory and educational institutions which are the governing bodies of Senufo life. There is a sacred grove which is situated outside of a Senufo village which is recognized as the Ancient Mother compound. She does have a male counterpart male deity who is far less prominent in both life and art. Ancient Mother embodies a cluster of ideas, just as the initiation over which she presides imparts both practical and esoteric learning to novices, her children, over a period of twenty years.

Senufo Ancient Mother House
Photograph taken from The Complexity of Maternity in African by Herbert M Cole


The N gambelemo figure shows a baby like depiction, a shapeless being. Male youths taken from their mothers. They first enter her compound as novices to be redelivered later as fully formed human beings, having nourished them with the milk of knowledge. The sculpture showing the lava-like creature at her breast being the uniformed novice. A later ceremony symbolizes a weaning from the Mother. During this long initiation cycle young men in training will refer to this process as being at our mothers work. Just as mothers from all over the world nurture their children with the guidance of knowledge, aiding their journey into life.

Image result for senufo villages

The Senufo are predominantly an agricultural people cultivating corn, millet, yams and peanut. Senufo villages consist of small mud-brick homes. In the rainy southern communities of Senufo, thatched roofs are common, while flat roofs are prevalent in dry desert-like north. The Senufo is a patriarchal extended family society, where arranged typically cousin marriage and polygyny has been fairly common. However, succession and property inheritance has been matrilineal.

The Senufo are regionally famous as musicians and superb carvers of wood sculpture, masks and figurines. The Senufo people have specialized their art and handicraft work by subgroups, wherein the art is learnt within this group from one generation to the next. The Kulubele specialize as woodcarvers, the Fonombele specialize in blacksmith and basketry work, the Kpeembele as brass casting specialists, the Djelebele are renowned for leatherwork, the Tchedumbele are masters of gunsmith work, while Numu specialize in smithing and weaving. Outside the artisan subgroups, the Senufo people have hunters, musicians, grave-diggers, diviners and healers who are called the Fejembele.  Among these various subgroups, the leather workers or Djelebele are the ones who have most adopted Islam, and even those who convert retain many of their animist practices.

The Senufo people have traditionally been a socially stratified society, like many West African ethnic groups with castes. These endogamous divisions are locally called Katioula, and one of the strata in this division includes slaves and descendants of slaves. According to Dolores Richter, the caste system found among Senufo people features “hierarchical ranking including despised lower castes, occupational specificity, ritual complementarity, endogamy, hereditary membership, residential isolation and the political superiority of farmers over artisan castes.

The Senufo villages are typically independent of each other, and each has a male secret society called Poro with elaborate initiation rituals in a patch of forest they consider as sacred. The initiation rituals involve masks, figurines and ritual equipment that the Senufo people carve and have perfected. The secrecy has helped the Senufo people to preserve their culture in the times of wars and political pressure. They wear specially crafted brass jewelry, such as those mimicking wildlife.

The Sandogo are women diviners among the Senufo people. They too have their own rituals and secret order. In addition, the Senufo people have Wambele and Typka who perform sorcery and rituals.

The traditional Senufo religion is a type of animism. This Senufo belief includes ancestral and nature spirits, who can be contacted. They believe in a Supreme Being, who is viewed in a dual male-female: a male Creator God called Kolotyolo or Koulotiolo, and an Ancient Mother called Maleeo or Katieleo.