This powerful Baga Nimba mask is a large and
superbly-preserved example of the genre: Nimba
is the Baga representative of fertility, not
technically a goddess but nonetheless endowed
with considerable spiritual power.
The mask is unusually ornate, with the hooked
nose, prominent breasts, tubular mouth and
ornate ears, complemented by lines and
geometric forms marked out with metal studs.
The “skirt” of raffia conceals the traditional four-
legged design. The surface of the wood is
unpainted but has acquired glossy patina through
age and usage.
These pieces are a major part of the social
structure in the Baga group, which is based
around the coastal areas of Guinea Bissau. In
practical terms, they are worn to celebrate
festivals, harvests, in honour of special visitors,
and at nuptial events, but their significance runs
considerably deeper. They are abstract
representations of idealised womanhood,
particularly motherhood (hence the large,
pendulous breasts), who serves as an inspiration
to mothers-to-be, and motivates young men to
greater industry. Nimba’s fertility overtones also
relate to the success of the rice harvest. It was
worn by a very fit dancer who supported the full
weight on their shoulders and performed
acrobatic leaps during his dance, a considerable
achievement considering the large size of the
This is a true masterpiece of African art.