The great mask, D'mba or Nimba of the Baga
represents the mother of fertility, protector of pregnant women, and presides over all
agricultural ceremonies. The dancer, wearing a full raffia costume, carries the mask on his
shoulders, looking out through holes between the breasts. In use, such masks rise more
than eight feet above the ground; they often weigh more than eighty pounds.
" Nimba is the joy of living; it is the promise of abundant harvest"
The Nimba represents the abstraction of an ideal of the female role in
society. The Nimba is essentailly viewed as the vision of woman at her zenith of power,
beauty, and affective presence; rather than a goddess or spirit.
Typically, the Baga Nimba's hair is braided into parallel rows (represented by the
scarification on the head) which are similar to the patterns of agriculture grown in West
African fields. The face, and breasts of the Baga Nimba are decorated with scarification,
which embody the ability of the Baga Nimba to alter its condition to the natural
environment. Nimba's presence is exemplified in all aspects if baga life for she is present
publicly at weddings to give direction to the new union; at funerals to initiate the dead;
harvest to celebrate productivity; and planting to inspire her people to continue to
complete difficult tasks. Ultimately, Nimba is a reminder of the reverred qualities which
make up the Baga social system.
An embodiment of the goddess and of "mother earth," the Nimba mask was associated both with human procreation and with the fertility of the fields. According to nineteenth-century accounts written by travelers in the region, it was carried about in the marshes and tall grasses of the Baga rice paddies. A potent fertility symbol, the goddess Nimba was also invoked by infertile women in the Simo society. The headdress, in fact, represents an idealized female figure; the long, flat, pendulous breasts identify her as a mature woman who has given birth to many children and has nurtured them to adulthood.The most monumental of ritual African masks, the Nimba mask towered eight feet above the ground when worn over the shoulders by a Baga dancer.
Unlike masked representations from other African cultures, which may represent ethereal spirits or ancestors, Nimba is not a "spirit," but instead is loosely described by the Baga themselves as simply an "idea."
Nimba is an abstraction of the ideal of the female role in Baga society.
She is honored as the universal mother and is the vision of woman
at the zenith of her power, beauty, and affective presence.
Although Nimba is not a spiritual being in the Baga sense of the term,