180838 - Old African Tribal used Baga Nimba head - Guinea.


Old Tribal used statue from the Baga Nimba from Guinea.
This mask is 32 cm high and is collected in 1952

This Baga Nimba head  is from the first half of the 20th century and purchased in my private collection in 2002, with a certificate of authenticity.

The Baga are a West African ethnic group who live in the southern swampy lands of Guinea Atlantic coastline.Traditionally animist through the pre-colonial times, they converted to Islam during the mid-eighteenth century under the influence of Muslim Mandé missionaries. Some continue to practice their traditional rituals.

Typically rural and known for their agricultural successes, particularly with rice farming, the Baga people speak a language of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family.

They are also known for their historic animist pieces of artwork. Known for their beauty and sophistication, these have been displayed and held at many major museums of the world. After independence, a totalitarian Marxist government took over Guinea in 1958. Its program of "demystification" lasted till 1984, destroying the traditional beliefs and ritual arts of the Baga people.


The Baga people, particularly the women, are known for their skills in rice farming in the swampy lowlands of southern Guinea coastline. The men are typically fishermen, who also tend palm and kola trees. The joint family is lineage-based. They have traditionally had a patrilineal kinship society, with authority held by the male elders of these kin groups. The elders constitute a village council.

Guinea's nationalization of land and property through socialist legislation following independence ended the effective power of the Baga elders. Most families live in clusters of cylindrical mud structures. These are roofed with thatched roofs made from rice straw, and these clusters are sometimes grouped to form small villages.

The Baga people historically had earlier refused to convert to Islam and retained their animist beliefs. But during the colonial slave trading period of West Africa, despite resisting religious and political pressure from the Fulani for centuries, almost all Baga people converted to Islam via the influence of Mandé missionaries in the 18th century. Now predominantly Muslim, they continue to practice animist rituals. For example, they ritually expose their dead for a period of time in a sacred grove, burn some of the possessions and the house of the dead person, before the Muslim style burial.

The Baga people are known for their rich history in arts, particularly with wood and metal. These include the mask called Nimba, an icon for the goddess of fertility and the largest known masks ever produced in Africa. They also carved Elek symbols as guardian symbols and for coding their Simo society secret lineage into it. Various utilitarian arts included similar encoding of spiritual themes. The Baga traditionally made another mask called Bansonyi, consisting of a painted pole (some were 20 feet long), which was colorfully decorated, ending in a calico flag and a triangular icon. The Bansonyi was used in male initiation ceremonies. After the systematic destruction over the 30-year period of totalitarian Marxist and then Islamic government rule, making such ritual art has become nearly extinct.