Senufo Pombia / Deble Rythym Pounder Figure
- Tribe: Senufo
- Origin: Talekaha, Korhogo Region Ivory Coast
- Approx Age: Early 20th Century
- Materials: Heavy hard wood
- Dimensions cm: 129 tall
- Ref. Number: 0975
A beautiful and very old Senufo Pombia rythym pounder , also mainly known as “Deble” bush spirit pounders. This is one of two we found in Talekaha in the Korhogo region of Ivory Coast, both believed to carved by the same carver. The head adorned with a crocodile, associated with intellectual power, significant of the knowledge the elders hope to impart on the young initiates. The female figure wears a necklace, arm and wrist bangles along with a few age cracks now and quite age worn features too. I have never seen pounders as old as this in one piece, this is still very solid and extremely heavy, exquisite and absolutely stunning.
The social, economic and spiritual lives of Senufo men are governed by an overarching initiation society known as Poro. A Senufo man must pass through all stages of the initiation society to be considered a rounded man with full insight into ancestral teachings and traditions. Each vocational group (including farmers, traders and artists) has its own Poro group through which they must graduate before becoming a member of the Senufo community.
Traditional sculpture of figures and masks play an important role in the Poro society. An example is the pombia (also called poro pia, nedo, doogele; pl. poro piibele, pombibele, ndble; meaning ‘child of poro’ or ‘those who give birth’) figure said to represent the ideal Senufo woman and man—the primordial ancestors. Pombia ‘rhythm-pounder’ figures are used to commemorate recently deceased Poro elders during their funerals, and to ensure their safe passage into the land of ancestors.
During funeral processions, male and female pombia figures are carried by the upper arms, swung from side to side and pounded on the ground regularly. This is to drive away evil spirits thus creating a smooth and safe passage for the deceased’s spirit into the land of ancestors. The initiates carrying the figures then circle the elder’s body three times (symbolising the three stages of Poro initiation).
When not in used, pombia figures are stored in a sacred grove (sinzanga) located outside of the village.
NOTE: Debele, short for madebele (meaning ‘bush spirits’), has been used as a class name for both the rhythm-pounders and display-sculpture subtypes.
NOTE: Figures held by neck or shoulders when not being swung.
The rhythm pounder (deble) from the Senufo people of the Ivory Coast was once a crucial prop in both commemorative ancestral rites and in initiations of adolescents to adult society; it was also a benevolent symbol of fertility and a conduit to the departed.
The few known male and female rhythm pounder pairs are thought to represent the primordial couple, referred to as ‘Pombibele’, which means “those who gave birth.
Typically it is female figures are represented and it has been speculated that these single figures are one of a pair, the location of the other being unknown. According to Anita Glaze (in Barbier, ed. 1993: 44), however, ‘not all funerary sculpture is commissioned as a pair, nor do all relatively large scale processional display figures necessarily belong to the primordial couple category. A poro society may possess one or more single figures that were initially commissioned as a result of a member’s visionary encounter with spirits in dreams or while alone in the fields.’
These pounders were traditionally used at funeral ceremonies for Poro society members. In some areas, they are actually pounded, at others, they are gathered at the center of the ceremonial grounds.
Sources: Sotheby’s, A History of Art in Africa