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TOMA/LOMA AND THEIR MASKS
Descendants of the farming and hunting population of the Mande, the
previously named Buzi people, (now politically divided into three different
states), are now known as the Toma and Loma. The Toma
inhabit the forest areas of Eastern Guinea (Macenta Area), and the Loma
the North-West of Liberia (Lofa County) and South-Eastern Sierra Leone.
estimated at a population of about 150,000, adopted the sacred male
fellowship of the “Poro” from remote times, as did many other
populations from the Gulf of Guinea. This important group plays a decisive
role in all aspects of their social, political and religious daily lives.
be pointed out that the Poro seems to have originated in its most
traditional form exactly in the area inhabited by the
and was then to spread to many other tribes such as the Gbandi, the Kpelle,
the Mano and the Senufo.
therefore interesting to note that Andrea Alvares de Almada had already
described the performance of the final ritual in a Poro session in
his "Tratado short dos rios de Guiné do Cabo Verde", sometime prior
Poro ceremonial site is the sacred forest, which lies in the vicinity of
each village, concealed from prying eyes. Other than the initiates and
priests, no one is allowed to enter the site, nor to reveal its well-hidden
secrets. Any unscrupulous "rabatteurs-charlies" of African art who
dared to raid the site of its masks and sacred objects, taking advantage of
the harvest season which saw all the village’s labour-worthy men engaged in
work, were hunted down with a vengeance.
distant sound of beating drums followed them on their flight path through
the forest, and once captured, the thieves were mercilessly slain.
linked to the Poro fellowship, the wooden dance masks of the Toma/Loma
possess a strict formal geometry in their volume. The masks not only serve
religious purposes, but also play a role in social control.
below are some of the most important examples.
wooden angbai or nyangbai mask represents one of several
incarnations of the Supreme Being, Afwi.
large horizontal surface of the face, accentuated by the absence of a mouth,
the distinct protrusion of the nose extends from beneath a dominant forehead
where three horn-shaped features adorn the top of the mask.
metal strips can sometimes be found decoratively criss-crossing over the
planes of the face. The mask-wearer’s impressive costume is made of feline
or monkey furs. The angbai customarily accompanies the young future
initiates into the forest, the sacred and exclusive Poro domain. On
completion of the initiation rituals, the angbai then escorts the
young men back to the village.