African initiation rites on display
HA NOI — A new exhibition at the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology in Ha Noi aims to teach Vietnamese people about African maturation rituals.
|Pride of the party: Sacred masks used in initiations of the Bamana in Mali at the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology. — VNS Photos
Becoming a Man presents coming-of-age rituals and initiation rites practised by the Bamana people of West Africa through stories, videos, ritual objects and photos collected by French visual anthropologist Catherine de Clippel during her research trips to Mali since 1980.
De Clippel's works have been included in many exhibitions in major cities such as Milan, Paris, New York, Zurich and Lyon, but this is the first time that an exhibit on African culture has been held at the capital's Museum of Ethnology.
"We expect to draw visitors' attention to its interesting and unheard of discoveries," said museum director Vo Quang Trong.
"The exhibition is the result of Catherine de Clippel's 30 years long and difficult work process in West Africa."
"For Vietnamese people, African culture is diverse and interesting but still very much unknown," he said.
"This spectacular exhibit is part of the museum's goal to gradually introduce our Vietnamese audience to cultures from around the world.
"Through the exhibition, the public will discover that some features of the Bamana in Mali are similar to the initiation rites of some ethnic groups in Viet Nam," he said.
The exhibit focuses on two mandatory rites, called Ntomo and Kore, which take place every seven years under the leadership of the Elders. Every Bamana boy must accomplish the two tasks to "become a man".
"These millennia-old traditions play an important role in Bamana spiritual life," said De Clippel.
The Ntomo is the first initiation ritual performed by the male members of the village and it opens the door to the Kore which follows. During the ritual, the boy puts on a mask featuring animals such as monkeys, horses or lions. The masks are secret objects made by the blacksmith and can only be worn by initiates.
In the Kore, Bamana males must live for a week in the bush under the guidance of three Elders, who teach them about herbal medicine, sexuality, and their obligations to their ancestors.
After accomplishing the tasks, the boys become men and reach maturity.
The exhibition space, arranged by French graphic artist Pattrick Hoarau, is decorated in black, red and grey, representing soil, blood and holiness, he said.
The exhibition will run through November 11 at the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology, Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Ha Noi. Presentations and discussions about Africa and initiation rites of different peoples will take place on September 15, October 13 and November 10 at the museum. — VNS