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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand


The Senufo

scattered between the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, Mali, one million five hundred thousand Senufo, live off agriculture and occasional hunting. they live in villages ruled by councils of elders, who elect a leader. cohesion of the tribe is reinforced by the Poro society initiates, and educates the Senufo men from lâge 7 years. Senufo theology based on the presence of a powerful god, Koulotiolo, and a mother goddess Katielo, which through the rites of the Poro society ruled over the world.
The Senufo art is one of the first to have been admired by Westerners, their artistic production is abundant, and their statues and masks are characterized by a mixture of realistic detail, allied to pure geometric forms. playing on the empty and full.


the Senufo, use different types of masks, according to the occasion. mask called Kpéliyée used by members of the Poro society has a heart shaped face surrounded by fins. mask helmet représentatnt janiforme a buffalo head is used for funerals and in times of crisis. its main function is to destroy the evil spirits, his power comes from a small cup placed on top of his skull containing magical substances. sometimes for dancing sparks out of his mouth that earned him the name "fire-eater." another type of helmet mask, a buffalo head, under a pair of antelope horns, are used primarily during initiation ceremonies poro.
Senufo artists have created three types of crest, the first focused pendnat celebrations celebrating the farmer the most productive, is a helmet bearing a statue of a woman, the second type supports a pair of horns, the third finally worn during ceremonies initiation Poro has a vertical panel perforated.


Senufo statues style varies greatly, however they can be identified by their heart-shaped face their nose in their hair and arrow, crescent-shaped. Their size varies between 25 and 120cm. Plombibele Senufo statues called "those who give birth" are among the most famous artwork, they are used during ceremonies for the funeral of members of the Poro society.
in the central region of the country Senufo, they are left standing in the middle of the ceremonial circle, while in the southern part of the country, they are worn and beaten on the ground so as to give a rhythm to the dancers during the ceremonies: they been dubbed in the West "batting rhythm"
Secret societies have also used the statues known as nopm Kafigéléjo of which personifient minds with judicial powers, and punitive damages. they are covered with a piece of cloth and a thick crusty patina. Large statues of birds are placed on the ground or carried by the male leaders of the new initiates during ceremonies of the Poro society.

Everyday objects

Senufo artists have decorated a large number of everyday objects with figurative forms: pulleys decorated with a bird's head or buffalo boxes ointments, doors and furniture. farmers the most productive are rewarded with canes decorated with human figures or statues of birds, blacksmiths Senufo produced refined copper jewelry such as rings and hand decorated SIDS head of cattle or chameleons symbolizing their genesis and apotropaic amulets.

According to the tribal art of Black Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

The Sejen bird figures of the Senufo People, Ivory Coast
The art of the Senufo people is quite popular nowadays, and their sculpture and masks are found in many European and American collections.  There are about 3 million Senufo living in the north of the Ivory Coast and the southern area of Mali. As in every country that was in touch with Islam and Christianity, many aspects of the traditional "native" culture were destroyed, especially in the 1950's where a new syncretic movment, "Massa or Alkora", was in the area.  There has been much French ethnologic field researchin that region.  Those pioneers had their own methods of acquiring pieces (that's another story).

The topic I want to introduce here is the "Sejen ceremony".   Sejen, "the bird", is a wooden sculpture that is mounted on a high post.  The wings are effused, and on the bird's back there are often another two smaller birds on minor sticks, and a cloth that is waving in the wind.  During September and October the young men of the city must build a yam field with hoes.  That's hard work, so it is organised as a competition.  There are many aspects in this hoe-competition, and in this article I only want to analyse the function and the art of selection of a few Sejen birds, and to show in this short report how their function has changed.

"Sejen" is, for the Senufo people, translated as "the one that is following, that protects the younger generation".  During the hoe ceremony, the staff is rarely seen by the worker.  But at end of the work the older ones, who had watched the competition for the whole day and had prepared the ground for the event, take the Sejen staff and a few hoes and start to scream for joy and happiness in front of the musicians and to dance.  The best of the young men will be praised by them.  They are told facetiously (but with some truth) by the girls that were standing on the border of the field, that they have now a good chance.  The young women come to the field during the day, with big pots.  The pots are filled with rice, yam and meat, but eating is allowed only after the work is done.  

Staffs like the Sejen also appear outside of the yam fields today.  The Sejen is adopted by women associations (they are called “Come and save me”) in many villages of Kafibele, Kassembele and Gbatobele.  They originated a few years ago, to help the men during the cotton harvest, which needed to be finished in a few days.  The loss of the tradition that was based on an economy where relatives helped during the harvest time, led to the present situation where those women's associations now help during the harvest.  Only the association has the possibilty to provide helpers for the harvest.  Picking the cotton under the stress of time is seen by many as a situation parallel to the yam harvest, and now the role of the sejen has a special importance here.

During a funeral the woman greet the mourners with the staff of the birds of the hoe-competion.  It is a sign of dignity and respect.   The bird probably supports the ghost of the dead, protecting him against bad ghosts on his way to the ancestors.

(The preceding section is an approximate translation of  pp. 25-29 in Förster T., Die Kunst der Senufo, Museum Rietberg 1988)

The are many types of Sejen birds known; single, double and triple bird.  I believe the numbers shows the importance of the harvest.   There is always a high sensibility taken on the details, the form always shows the spreading of the wings.  The reasons why some of the birds have additional birds on them, is only speculative.  I suspect that the notion that more is better was adopted here.  For example, more children on maternity figures lead to more fertitilty.  There are colored ones (dot motif) and colorless ones.  Oil color was always expensive, so I think those that are colored got special attention.   It could also be that the uncolored ones were originally colored with natural (earth based) color, but this needs further research.

From the research I have done, I came to the conclusion that a Sejen bird was not only used one time in a hoe-competition. The Sejen birds I saw always had more than one coulor dot motivf, so they had to have been used more often.  I think this is important; the Sejen bird had a power that was not only temporary (only for the competition), it also was kept and used in many ways (funeral).  

I think there are 3 main styles, an earlier one that is more reduced to the function of the bird (less detailed).   I would date it between 1880 and 1910, and a younger one, between 1920 and 1940, that is more detailed, and finally a style that is overdecorated and nearly abstract, from 1940 to the present.

Here are some examples.


Sejen 1:  L: 57 cm, Provenance: R. and D. David, Kilchberg,
Copyright: Museum Rietberg Zürich, Die Kunst der Senufo Förster 1988.

Sejen 2: 45 cm, Provenance: G. and M. Minkoff, Geneva,
Copyright: Museum Rietberg Zürich, Die Kunst der Senufo Förster 1988.

Sejen 3: L: 30 cm, Provenance: U.Horstmann, Zug,
Copyright: Museum Rietberg Zürich, Die Kunst der Senufo Förster 1988

Sejen 4: L: 65 cm, B: 35 cm, Musee des Arts Africains et Oceaniens, Paris (NAN 64-14-4), Copyright 1990 Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, die Kunst der Senufo Elfenbeinküste, T.Förster 1990

Sejen 5: Height: 19”.  Provenance: Ex. Dorothy Brill Robbins coll.,
Copyright : Howard S.Rose Gallery

Sejen 6: H: 48,5 cm Provenance: Private German Collection,
Copyright: Archiv Zemanek-Münster,Würzburg

Sejen 7: L: 17,5 cm and15 cm, Provenance: Coll. Dr. C. von
Castelberg, Zürich Copyright: Archiv Zemanek-Münster,Würzburg


© David Zemanek
With the permission of Tribal Art Forum


  • Förster T., Die Kunst der Senufo, Museum Rietberg 1988
  • Förster T., Die Kunst der Senufo Elfenbeinküste, VKM Berlin, 1990
  • Schädler K.-F., Lexikon afrikanische Kunst und Kultur, Munich 1994


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