Important Notes :
A. All names are given in alphabetical order.
B. The prefix Ba, often appearing before the name of the tribe, means “man” in many of the local
dialects and stays for “member of” then followed by the name of the specific tribe or ethnic
group (e.g. Ba-Kete or Ba-Luba etc), it is not necessarily displayed at any time
Akan-Agni/Anyi (28), Ivory Coast and Ghana
Major ethnic group comprising Ashanti/Asante/Fanti, Agni/Anyi, Baoule’ and other minor groups. Organized in several small independent kingdoms upon the arrival of the Portuguese in 1474, at the beginning of 1700 they formed a powerful federation which successfully opposed the British until the beginning of 1900 when they were finally defeated. Well known for their terracotta heads, portraits which are probably representing their high rank personalities and for their wooden statues of an unique style.
Agni/Anyi (28), see Akan
Ashanti/Asante/Fanti (29), see Akan
Ba-Bembe’ (east) (67), see Bembe’ (east)
About 70,000 people living on the hills overlooking Lake Tanganyka, speaking a lenguage similar to the one of Lega, located north of them towards Lake Kivu and Ruanda
Ba-Bembe’ (west) (52), see Bembe’ (west)
Tribe living on the banks of Congo River down to its way to the sea
Baga/Baga-Fore (16), Guinea
Located in the lagunar region north of Conakry this group counts more than 50,000 people, all devoted to fishing, cola nut growing and ricegrowing. They were first signaled by portuguese travellers at the beginning of 1500. Their large nimba masks were used for their agrestic rites
Ba-Kete (61), Kasai Region, Southern Zaire and Northeastern Angola
Small Group of about 25,000 people mainly dealing with agricultural activities, originally tributary of Bushongo kingdom (see Ba-Kuba)
Among the most important ethnic groups in central Africa (more than 2 million people), located in Southern Congo, Zaire and Angola, subdivided in various tribes like Vili, Yombe’ and Solongo, each one with its own organisation and social structure, though with common cultural roots.
The portuguese Diego Cao got in touch with the kingdom of Kongos in 1482, ten years before the discovery of America
Ba-Kota (43), Ogooue’ Basin, Gabon
Group of Bantu roots, pushed southward to its present location between 1600 and 1800 by the Fang, similarly to the Fang they developed a deep cult of the ancestors whose bones they preserve in impressive wooden containers surmounted by anthropomorphic statues or torsos
Ba-Kuba (60), Kasai Region, Southern Zaire and Northeastern Angola
Now about 250,000 people; their federation under the ruling Bushongo kingdom reached its peak during 1800, achieving great wealth, refined lifestyle (wooden make-up boxes, drinking cups for the palm wine etc) and an outstanding general artistic level. This group comprises tribes like Boyo, Ba-Kete, Bena-Biombo, Bena-Lulua which see
Ba-Kwele (west) (46), Gabon and Congo
Small group, mainly located along the Ivindo River in Gabon, organized and ruled according to outstanding families lineage, their masks were used during complex initiatic rites to distribute the power to the various families
Ba-Kwele (north east) (74)
Ba-Lega/Warega (66), Kivu/Lualaba River region, Eastern Zaire
About 200,000 people, speaking a language similar to the Ba-Bembe of Lake Tanganyka.
The outstanding individuals becoming members of the bwami society, exercising the power jointly with the tribe chiefs. Their masks were used mainly during the bwami society rites
Ba-Luba (70), Zaire
Important group of about 1.5 million people, presently occupying the regions of Shaba, Upemba and a part of Kasai, between 1300 and 1700 they had formed a powerful local kingdom.
The Ba-Songye/Songwe tribe (which also see) is also related to the Ba-Luba group
Bamana/Bambara (03), Mali
The most numerous ethnic group in Mali (about 2 million people), living in the area where Bani and Niger rivers flow. Bambara (i.e. non believer) is the name that the surrounding muslims gave them as a consequence to their ferocious opposition to the introduction of Islam, Bamana is the correct ethnologic name.
During 1600 and 1700 they created 2 important kingdoms, Kaarta and Segu, the letter was visited by the scottish traveller Mungo Park, who was very impressed by the high level of organization and civilization.
Recent studies casted some light on their complex mithology, handed down by one generation to the next through six initiatic societies (ntomo, komo, nama, kono, tyiwara and kore)
Bamileke’/Bamoum (40), Cameroun
Group of more than 1 million people living the the southwest area of the Cameroun Grasslands where they are installed since the beginning of 1800 after having merged with the pre-existing tribes.
They were organized in several smalle kingdoms, ruled by a Fon, assisted by outstanding members of powerful societies, sometimes secret. Their masks were used for the different rites of such societies
Bamoum (40), see Bamileke’
Baoule’/Baule’ (27), Ivory Coast
About 1 million people belonging to the Akan ethnic group (which see), representing about 20 percent of the total population of Ivory Coast, where they live in the central region. Differently from the majority of their neighbours, the social organization is founded on the families and broader families with no “societies” more or less “secret”. Their masks and sculptures are used to get in touch with the ultra terrestrial powers
Ba-Pende (East) (59)
During 1600 this tribe (now about 500,000 people) moved from Angola to Zaire and split in two groups: the western Pende (about one third in Kwango region) and the eastern Pende (the other two thirds in Kasai region). Their masks are mainly used during their circumcision rites
Ba-Pende (west) (58), see Ba-Pende (East)
Bassa-Ngue/ Bassa-Komo (39)
Related to the Ba-Luba group with whom they share the cult of a common ancestor named Kongolo, the Ba-Songye, a community of about 100,000 individuals, live and agricultural life in the regions surrounding the Lomani river in Zaire. The power is in the hands of a central assembly of chiefs and its central chief, as commonly happening several secret societies also playing an important role.
Kifwebe masks, for instance, were widely used to ensure a social and political control of the population, some of the rites related thereto have not yet been fully clarified and explained
Important group of about 600,000 individuals, located in Angola and Zaire, ruled by an absolute chief with the assistance of two senior wisemen. In their mithology the most relevant place is given to their cultural hero Tshibinda Hunga married to Princess Lweji with whom giving birth to a new dinasty.
Their wooden statues often represent such mithological heroes, whilst their chiefs are normally portraited in a seating posture
Ba-Vili (51), see also Ba-Kongo
Scattered on a large territory in south western Zaire and north eastern Angola, on both sides of Kwango and Wamba rivers they have the typical tribal organisation and beliefs as the majority of their neighbours, the core of their sculptures refers to the initiation rites of puberty into manhood
Bantu population of ethnic group Ba-Kongo (which see) of about 300,000 people, hunters and peasants located among southern Congo, Zaire and Cabinda enclave, organized in matrilear clans under the authority of a chief. The small maternity sculptures were used in their fertility rites, whilst the nkisi statues were used in the rites of their secret societies.
Bembe’ (east) (67), see Ba-Bembe’ (east)
Bembe’ (west) (52), see Ba-Bembe (west)
Small tribe of about 5,000 individuals of Kete-Kuba (which also see) origin located at the junction of Kasai and Lulua rivers in Zaire. Their main sculpting activity is focused on initiation masks
About 300,000 individuals living out of agriculture and hunting of Luba (which also see) roots, sharing several cultural elements with the Kuba and Tschokwe, located in the Kasai region, Zaire.
The male statues are normally images of their chiefs whilst the female statues were used for the tshibola maternity cult. Scarification which is often shown in their statues was no longer practised by the end of the 19th century
Small tribe of about 20,000 people, located in Zaire by the border with Angola, likely of Kete origin (see Ba-Kete). Their secret society bangono was creating the masks which were then used for hunting rites and for funeral honoring of their chiefs
Located east of Kasai river in Zaire this tribe has about 60,000 individuals, mainly hunters, though agriculture is as well exploited. Their hunters secret society has a great power and the masks they create are widely used to show the different degrees of the members of such society as well as for initiation rites
Benin/Edo (34), see also Yoruba and Ife’/Owo
Ancient kingdom located in nowadays Nigeria, inhabited by an Edo population. At the end of the XV century, when the first portuguese voyagers arrived, Benin was still a powerful kingdom, ruled by an absolute king named Oba (of Yoruba origin), complicated ceremonial habits and rites were daily taking place in the royal palace to worship the king and his ancestors.
The kingdom was destroyed in 1897 by a british expedition which sacked all the bronze and wooden statues the majority of which are now shown at British Museum in London
Bolon/Bolon-Kufen (12), Mali and Burkina Faso
Small group within the Mande’ ethnic branch living on both sides of the border between Mali and Burkina Faso
Boyo (60), see Ba-Kuba
Small group of fishermen (about 30,000 people) within the Mande’ ethnic branch living on both banks of River Niger, located in Mali, between the Bamana to the west and the Dogon to the east.
Bushango/Bushongo/Bushoong (60), see Ba-Kuba
Dafing, see Marka
Dan/Kran (21), Ivory Coast
About 150,000 people living in the western region of Ivory Coast, where they are called also Yacouba, and towards the border with Liberia, where they are called Gio.
Theirs masks are representing the spirits they worship and are used in their rites but are also a mean to exercise social control
Town state located on the interior delta of Niger, in Mali, founded around the IX century, important and rich kingdon during the medieval age for its position at the crossing of the inter-saharian trades.
The arrival of the Portuguese in the XV century started its decadence.
Famous for its terracottas dating between the XII and the XV centuries.
Dogon (07), Mali
Tribe of the voltaic group, mainly devoted to agricultural activities, consisting in about 250,000 individuals located in the Bandiagara rocky region by the Niger Bend of Niger river in Mali.
during 1400-1500 the Mande’ invaders pushed them towards the cliffs and slopes by the Niger Bend, all the way from Bandiagara to Douentza, overlooking Gondo planes in Burkina Faso. By moving this way in fact the Dogon tribe did re-occupy the area which couple of centuries before had been the homeland of the Tellem group. European travellers did later on find out that they were using a large number of ancient wood carvings and sculptures, which they called Tellem, and in fact they were carved by such earlier group well before the arrival of Dogon, their style seems to be ancestral to that of the Dogon, some radiocarbon tests were giving dates of 1450 AD plus/minus 150.
Their culture shows a complex cosmogony, maintained virtually intact until our times in spite of the extremely strong muslim pressure due to the relative proximity of Timbuctou, large islamic cultural center as from the middle ages.
They are organised according to a hyerarchical system based on age classes with an important cult of ancestors and initiatic rites controlled by a society of men and another society composed also by women.
Extremely favourable climatic conditions (dry and stable all the year round) have greatly favoured the conservation in caves scattered along the slope of the Bandiagara cliff of very ancient wooden statues and masks representing mithical heroes, nommos and hermaphrodite personages
Edo (33) – see also Benin
Population of the ancient Benin Kingdom
Eket (36) – see Ibibio
Sub-division of the Ibibio ethnic group in Nigeria, which see
Living in south eastern Nigeria in the Cross river forestal region. Some of their most powerful secret societies have been founded by women, such societies are located in their egbo buildings and other assembly places. They are particularly gifted for wood sculpture (masks and statues)
Ewe (31), see Fon
Fang (42), Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon
About 1 million people, belonging to the Bantou ethnic group, occupying a large forest comprised among the 3 above mentioned countries
Fanti, see Akan
Fon (31), present Benin
Group of Ewe roots, ruling at the time on the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey carachterized by a rigid and efficient military organization
Gio, see Dan
Gola (18), Liberia
About 100,000 people living in the northern region of Liberia, near the Mende’ with whom they share some cultural and social values
Grebo (23), Ivory Coast and Liberia
Small group which until the last sixties was living in the depth of the pluvial forest on the two sides of the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia, they are related with the neighbouring Bassa and Bete
Belonging to the Mande group they are located west of Baoule’ in Ivory Coast, on the banks of Bandama river, where they did migrate to during the XVI century from north and northeast.
Their bobbin-holders and masks are the main subject of their articraft
Gourunsi/Gurunsi/Nounouma Gurunsi (09)
About 80,000 individuals of Luba roots, mainly devoted to agriculture, located between Lualaba river and Tanganyka lake in southern Zaire. Their ancestral cult is of great importance and their sculptures do mainly represent ancestors of the families holding the political power
Ibibio/Ibibio-Eket (36), Nigeria
Major ethnic group of about 1 million persons, comprising several smaller tribes living in the Cross River Region in Nigeria (confluence of Benoue’ and Niger rivers and south to the border with Cameroun) sharing a common lenguage, culture and origin.
Large ethnic group in Nigeria (more than 8 million people) gathering more than 30 tribes, located on the highlands on the two banks of southern Niger river. They don’t have an absolute chief but the political and social power in in the hands of by senior members of outstanding familias and by the secret societies. Their large wooden sculptures representing ancestors were kept in their m’bari (the house of the men) and in their sanctuaries.
Ife’/Owo (32), see also Yoruba and Benin/Edo
Ancient religious capital of Nigeria, famous for its bronze and terracotta statues, discovered in the sites of Wunmonije and Ita Yemoo. Located in the heart of Yoruba territory, Ife’ was one of the numerous kingdom-cities created by Yorubas, their kings were then called ‘’Oni’’. Its prosperous years, between 1100 and 1450, favoured the establishment of sancuaries and of complex royal ceremonies, which lead to the development of such sophisticated kingdom art which preceded the Benin Kingdom of about 2 centuries.
Kete (61), see Ba-Kete
Koro, see Wurkum
Kran, see Dan
Kufen (12), see Bolon-Kufen
Shepherds and peasants this people is composed with different ethnic groups, located on the right bank of Volta river between Ghana, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. They have several cultural roots common with their neighbours Dagara and Birifor.
Loma (20) see Toma
Luba, see Ba-Luba
Located between Gabon and Congo they share with their neighbours Ba-Kota several cultural elements, among which the cultual habit to preserve their ancestors’ bones in wooden containers featuring an abstract metal figure superposed, representing the reliquary guardian
About 500,000 people, whose great majority is living in south-eastern Tanzania, whilst the others are located in north-eastern Mozambique. Their mapiko masks were used in initiation rites to represent their people’s ancestral spirits
Malinke’, see Mande’
About 20,000 individuals living in the bordering region between Nigeria and Camerun, renown for their musical instruments and masks
Important group on the borders of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Mali, also related to the Bolon/Bolon-Kufen and the Bozo tribes
Marka (01), Mali
Tribe with mixed Peul and Muslim roots, within the Mande’/Soninke’ ethnic group.
Living northwest of Bamana/Bambara towards the border with Senegal where they are known as Sarakole’. A fraction of this tribe is installed in Burkina Faso where they are named Dafing
M’Bete’, see Bete-We’
They arrived during 1500 from northern regions to Sierra Leone and represent the largest group there. Their male secret society porois exercising a powerfu social control and monopolizes the inititiation rites. Aside of poro a female secret society called sande (also wearing masks), a rare example in african general customs, is training young girls for initiation to adult life.
Large helm masks are still used in the sande ceremonies.
This people of peasants and shepherds located in Burkina Faso has in fact a mixed composition with two distinct ethnic groups, the Nakomse’ who have the political power and the Tengabisi who descend from the original autochthonous popolations who during 1400/1500 were invaded and doomed by the Nakomse’, they resisted indomitously the arrival of Islam and were renowned for their courage and their force. According to the different ethnic and geographic groups, they have at least five different mask styles, to which have been given the names of their ancient kingdoms : Ougadougou, Risiam, Kaya and Boulsa
Located on the Nigerian Border with Cameroun this people is subdivided in 7 groups speaking the same language but with different habits and religious beliefs. All the groups recognize a common origin related to the Yoro village where their master of the rain resides.
Small tribe of about 12,000 people located in Kasai, they have close cultural ties with the Ba-Kuba group. They are hunters, fishermen and peasants organized in small villages. The members of the ikoko secret society are hunters and basically control the social life. Their statues are images of their kings and ancestors, normally kept on the tombs of the ikoko members
From the name of Nok village, located on the Jos highland in Nigeria, took the name the site where excellent terracotta sculpture dated between 500 BC and 200 AC where found.
Virtually nothing is known about the people who created such sculptures, except that, according with some tools found in the excavation, they were peasants and, maybe, shepherds.
Nounouma Gurunsi (09) -see Gourunsi
Ometo (76), see Konso/Ometo
Owo (32), see Ife’/Owo also Yoruba and Benin/Edo
Ancient kingdom-city of southern Nigeria, located half the way between Ife’ and Benin, inhabited by a Yoruba group who could have originated from Ife’, cultural centre which produced sophisticated masterpieces, fell later on during 1400 under the power of Benin. The cultural and artistic roots look to be very much like Ife’ and Benin.
Pende (west) (58), see Ba-Pende (East)
Pende (east) (59), see Ba-Pende (East)
This tribe is located in southern Gabon, the power is exercised by the initiatic societies. Their white masks are used in funerary ceremonies and are their most known artistic activity
Salampasu (65), see Bena-Salampasu
Sarakole’, see Marka
Important people (about 1,000,000) of the voltaic group devoted to agriculture, located in a large bordering region among Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina-Faso and Ghana.
The secret society poro (for whose rites their masks were mainly used) is the most important among several others and plays a fundamental role in their daily life.
Soninke’ (02) – see Mande’
Soninke’ (west) (17)
Tellem (07), see Dogon
This ethnic group is located in the deep equatorial forest between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, their secret society poro plays a paramount role in their daily life and virtually control the power.
Vili (51), see Ba-Vili
Small group located in the central region of Gabon, by the banks of Ofoue’ river. Masks, mostly white, are their only form of artistic expression.
Yacouba, see Dan
They are a small community related to Gouro/Guro, which whom they share the mande language, sometimes they have been erroneously considered as a branch of Baoule’, maybe the similarities with the Baoule’ masks caused such wrong opinion, but maybe that it is instead them and their cousins Gouro/Guro who influenced the Baoule’.
Yoruba (32), see also Ife’/Owo and Benin/Edo
Counting more than 10 million people, this group is the most numerous of Nigeria and probably all Africa, located in south west region of Nigeria and the present Benin.
Various groups do still recognize the authority of the Oni of Ife’, regarded as the ancestral origin of them all.
The Yoruba cosmology is very rich and varied and many secret societies are keeping a tight control of such beliefs. Different types of masks, among which the gelede, are used for this purpose.
Yurkum, see Wurkum
About 7 million people, belonging to the group nguni, are the largest population in South Africa. At the beginning of 1800 they were guided by their legendary king Chaka to conquer the territory of the present Natal, where they settled until nowadays.