TRIBAL AFRICAN ART

MAMA (KATANA)

Nigeria

The Mama live on the plateaus of northern Nigeria, extending from the present-day state of Ebbi to the Cameroon border. Difficulty accessible, this extremely varied region from an ethnic and linguistic point of view, has in the past been the site of numerous migrations and invasions.

Geographically isolated, the peoples of the northeast – Montol, Jukun, Koro, Goemai, Mama, etc – have up to present been relatively little studied. Nonetheless, among the majority of these peoples we do find the institution of a chief/priest invested with sacred authority, one responsible for the well-being of the entire community. The political organization of the Mama, however, was quite varied. The plateau region has a long artistic tradition behind it, for it is here that the Nok civilization blossomed – one that has given us the most ancient evidence of terracotta figurative sculpture from West Africa. From an artistic viewpoint, the Mama are producers of rather abstract statuary, as well as masks that are associated with the world of the ancestral spirits – spirits who exercise an important function of social control. One finds the image of the buffalo and the antelope throughout the whole valley of the Shemankar, among the Mama as among the Goemai and the Jucun. These animals are closely related to the material prosperity provided by good harvests. The dance took place within the framework of the mangam cult. Outside the areas reserved for the cult, buffalo skulls, occasionally set in mud walls, prove that the animal, in the form of skulls or masks, played an important role in the Mama’a ancestor cult.

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