Bambara sculptures of dignified men and women first appeared in Western collection in the 1950s when the female figures were referred to as "Queens". They all came from villages near Dioila and Bougouni in the region of the river Baoule before it joins the Bagoe to form the Bami, a tributary of the River Niger, but none arrived with any documentation. Kate Ezra compiled all the available information for her masterly catalogue A Human Ideal in African Art. Bamana Figurative Sculpture (New York, 1986), in which she records that in one village they remembered that some of the statues had been carved by a sculptor called Soriba, but when people were questioned in 1978 they could only reply that it was "before they were born" (p.38).
The statues were used by the Jo and Gwan associations displayed in groups of six or seven, comprising a maternity, gwandusu, and a male figure, gwantigi, surrounded by others, mostly female, fè mògòw. Such displays were concerned with ideals of behaviour with regard to men and women, the individual and society. Goldwater (R., Bambara Scupture from the Western Sudan, New York, 1960) thought that they were probably representations of ancestors, but Youssouf Tata Cissé (in Falgayrettes-Leveau, C., ed., Arts d'Afrique, Paris, 2000, p.151) tells us that the female figures (do ba) represent the goddess of water and the primordial mother and that the groups were displayed every seven years in relevant ceremonies.
Every Bambara male would have had membership to an initiation association, thus participating in the religious, economic and political life of the community and fulfilling his destiny. The carvings signify praise and respect for the ancestors, with a female such as the present example demonstrating regard for higher authority and excellence. Heroes are extolled in Mande praise songs not so much for their physical prowess but for their access to and control of magic and charged objects. A sense of balance is important to the Bambara who acknowledge that static preservation leads to stagnation but intense competition to chaos. Men and women have an equal claim to extraordinary powers "If you are not afraid of females you are not afraid of anything" (Ezra, 1986, p.37)
Ezra illustrates a maternity figure and a female figure decorated with finely incised lines (pp. 27 and 28, nos. 33 and 34) and says in conclusion "The actions and attributes of the Jo and Gwan figures reveal fundamental concepts in Bamana sculpture. They glorify the qualities that propel an individual to greatness. They also portray the value of submitting to one's role in society and of honoring those whose achievements merit praise and respect" (p.38).