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 Dioïla 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 central 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.
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. Some figures respresent those that exert power and others those that submit to it. The present male figure may well be one of the former as his gestures are not those of submission and the object he carries may well be an amulet or horn denoting occult power. 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. Ezra (Bamana, The Art of Existence in Mali, New York, 2001, p.133, cat.124) illustrates a similar male figure in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.