|Baga bird headdress called a-Bamp or a-Bemp
At adolescence, young boys of the Baga enter a new stage. They form wrestling groups, and much of their ritual has to do with
They also continue to conduct their own ritual, some of which involves masquerade. A headdress shaped as the figure of a
large bird has long been one of the most popular masquerades of young men and boys. It is called 'the bird' -'a-Bemp' or
'a-Bamp'.The basic headdress is simply a bird form with a long neck, a long beak, a pot-bellied body, and broad striped wings
over the back. A stake extends down from its belly, used to insert into an armature that the dancer wears on his head.
The headdress can range in form from softly naturalistic to extravagantly abstract and composite. Many of these figures bear
twin miniature birds on their backs, often in conjunction with a miniature house. A checkerboard pattern often appears on the
There are infinite departures from this basic form. Attachments may depict the Baga woman, model canoes, and airplanes.
Some examples are almost completely abstract and extremely complex, incorporating bird and serpent forms as well as
indeterminate geometric shapes.
One detail stands out, as a curiosity, in all this; the model house. A house is also seen on another headdress, the Banda. The
house is the symbol par excellence of the gratification of sexual desire. Traditionally, it was only at marriage, preceded by the
requisite initiation, that the young man built his own house. It was to this house that his brothers carried his bride on their
shoulders following her marriage, and it was this little house that his marriage was consummated.
The a-Bamp headdress does not consistently represent any particular bird in nature. Many examples have head crests,
suggesting the elegant large stalking birds of the sea inlets with their crowning tufts of feathers. The dance of the a-Bamp is
athletic. The dance skips around the perimeter of the circle formed by the audience. He crouches and then leaps up; or,
crouching, he tilts to the right and left. Occasionally he may twirl, accelerating his steps, and end by lifting the headdress above
his head and spinning it around. Accompanying the dancer are men beating the large slit gong, box drums and smaller drums
suspended under their arms. The dance generally takes place at night, so a young man may follow a-Bamp with a torch made
from a lit bundle of grass.
Sources: Art of the Baga
|An excellent reference on the Baga and their art is "Art of the Baga: A Drama of Cultural Reinvention".
Click on the picture below to go to the Amazon.com page to view/purchase this book.