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A Fine Old African Door Lock Banama People Mali or Senegal West Africa 19th Century

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Collection No. TB-1626
Size Height 46cm
New Guinea Oceanic Art
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New Guinea & Oceanic Art
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Asian & Japan Scholars Art
Asian Buddhist Art
The Art of Compassion The Todd Barlin Collection

A Fine Old African Door Lock Banama People Mali or Senegal West Africa 19th Century

This beautiful old Door Lock is in the form of an abstract ancestor figure, the triangular-shaped head likely represents a type of traditional hairstyle. The body comprises the lock mechanism on the back & the front has finely incised geometric designs.

These door locks were generally used to protect houses and granaries. Bamana door locks range from abstract and symbolic to representations of ancestors. They are usually larger and more figurative than those of their Dogon neighbours.

Door locks were given as gifts to young brides and were passed down as heirlooms from generation to generation. The locks tended to be given names according to the message, ancestor or story to which their form and motifs referred. The form of motifs employed in door locks usually are invested with symbolic messages despite their formal simplicity. These messages, both in abstract and representational imagery, can be deeply personal. The stylized figure is usually a representation of an ancestor whose presence is required to ensure protection from bad spirits or sorcery. An addition of animal representation enhances the power of the ancestors and therefore provides additional protection.

Mechanically, the locks consisted of two parts. The vertical element which was nailed to the door, and the horizontal element, or bolt, secured the door to the frame. The bolt typically had five parts that together resulted in a locking mechanism that was highly secure against those who didn’t know how to use the key. But the importance of the lock had little to do with its physical complexity and strength. Rather, the power of the lock came from its magical content, whether real or imagined.

As recently as 60 years ago. the houses in the villages of the Bambara in Mali were distinctive because of finely carved wooden door locks.

These door locks were intended to prohibit the entrance into the house of evil persons or evil spirits. In particular, the locks were one part of a widespread effort to control Nyale. Nyale is the god or life force that represents creativity and fertility and energy, but unless controlled results in chaos. The strength and complexity of the locks was reinforced by the perceived power of the forces of stability and calm to deal with any intruders. For example, the inverted triangular form at the base of the vertical pieces of these locks could represent a python’s head. The python was regarded as a symbol of god and thus a potent guard against sorcery and magic.

Provenance The Todd Barlin Collection of African & Oceanic Art

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