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Baule, Yaure, Attie,
Democratic Republic of Congo
45. Bamana Komo lock, Mali, wood and metal, 27" (68.5 cm) |
This form of doorlock, with the vertical figure/body and horizontal crossbolt, is used by many ethnic groups throughout west Africa from Mali to the Ivory Coast. The locking mechanism consists of one or more metal pins which fall down into corresponding holes in the crossbolt when it is fully extended, making it impossible to open until the correctly configured key is used to raise the pins. These locks are traditionally carved out of Toro wood, a very hard, dense wood that doesn’t warp, and then treated with the sap of the Bagana plant, which both preserves the wood and gives the lock a pleasing surface. The symbolism on the doorlocks from all the ethnic groups is extremely complex and interesting. In the case of this doorlock, the figure represents Faro, a diety in the creation myth and one associated with water. Faro is of great importance to the Komo society, an important age/grade society among the Bamana. However the iconography goes well beyond this. The vertical body of the lock, though representing a male diety, is seen as female, while the horizontal crossbolt is seen as male. The penetration of the crossbolt through the body of the lock being symbolic for sexual intercourse, these locks (or locks and doors together) were often given as wedding gifts to a young bride to bless the union of the marriage. The specific iconography of the lock- Faro in this case- is chosen for a particular reason or story, hence every lock has its own history and special relationship to those people for whom it was made.
The long ears on the lock have several different readings- at once ears capable of hearing all movements in the night, thus protecting the family from thieves (if any thieves would dare cross a threshhold protected by Faro!), the jaws of a crocodile representing the power of the Komo society to defeat witchcraft and sorcery, and the raised index and 5th finger of the left hand, symbol of the Komo society. The breasts represent Faro’s androgynous nature. The legs, with what look like multiple knees, are representations of scorpions tails, recalling the story of Mouso Koroni Koundye (little old woman with a white head), an essential being in the Bamana creation myth, who died of a scorpion sting. The incised carvings and cross hatchings on the surface of the lock and crossbolt have many complex and symbolically overlapping meanings.
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