Vue de l'exposition "Bois sacré"
04 Mar 2014 18 May 2014

Bois sacré

Initiation dans les forêts guinéennes

On the African continent, the initiation ceremony marks a mandatory rite of passage for each individual. For some countries in western Africa, it is the Poro initiation which plays a primordial role in a number of communities in the region. The exhibition examines in particular the secret societies of the Guinean forests: Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast.

About the exhibition

For the Toma, the generic term Poro designates "the mask". The manifestation of power, which is held only by certain individuals, is manifest by the objects involved in the initiations, and primarily in the masks which play a central role. The Toma – also known as the Loma – are considered in western Africa as the creators of Poro, an organisation which was inaugurated in around the 16th century. The Poro was then adopted and adapted by other populations located geographically relatively close to the Toma.

The exhibition evokes the origins of the initiatory system of the Poro, the initiation ceremony and finally the history of the collection of these objects whose power resides in secrecy. It will present a number of masks linked to initiation, and in particular the different types of Toma masks, together with other objects, miniature masks, figurines and statues, relating to these mysterious societies.

  • curator

    • Aurélien Gaborit, Head of the Africa collections at the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, scientific director of the Pavillon des Sessions, musée du Louvre
  • Place:   Mezzanine est
  • TimeSlots:  
    From Tuesday 04 March 2014 at Sunday 18 May 2014
  • Closed on monday
    Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday:  10:30 am-07:00 pm
  • Public:   All publics
  • Categorie : Exhibitions
  • Permanent Collections
    Full price:  10,00 €
    Reduce rate:  7,00 €

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    Full price:  12,00 €
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Vue de l'exposition "Bois sacré"
00:00 / 00:00
Bois sacré, initiation dans les forêts guinéennes - Bande-annonce de l'exposition
Exposition "Bois sacré, initiation dans les forêts guinéennes" au musée du quai Branly, du 4 mars au 18 mai 2014. Pour en savoir plus :
1:48 min

Exhibition Overview

The Invention of Poro

The initiatory system for the majority of the populations living in the Guinean forests (Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast) is designated by the generic name of Poro. In West Africa, the Toma are regarded as the creators of Poro, an organization which was established in around the 16th century. The Poro was then adopted and adapted by other populations located geographically close to the Toma: the Kouranko, the Nzekéré, the Guerzé, the Geh, the Maou and the Senufo of Ivory Coast.

The passage from childhood to adulthood takes place by way of the progression of young male initiates through a tunnel dug into the soil. The masks used during these ceremonies have no features in common with those used by the Toma, even though the institution is the same. There is also a Poro for young women, which is often compared to the best known female initiatory practices of the Mende from Guinea and Sierra Leone.


Initiation ceremonies follow the same principle in each population. Young boys are initiated to the secrets of origins, ancestors, self-subsistence, and more. This inescapable rite of passage begins with the separation of children from their family and withdrawal into the sacred forest. The body will be marked during this trial; incisions made on the skin during an initiatory ceremony will always remain visible. This section of the exhibit primarily displays masks, of which there are four types: Angbai, Bakorogui, Okobuzogui and Dandai.


The final section of the exhibit addresses the idea of collecting and the collection. What do we know about the objects? Is the little information we have on these objects due to the fact that the Toma knew how to keep the secret?

Some of the various objects connected to the Poro rites are not spectacular, like the Maa masks; these very small protective masks take on the forms of the masks involved in initiation. The display also includes the iron rods offered to the newly-initiated and the rare vololibei statuettes. There was only one of these elegant reclining figures per village; the “spouse” was held and used in a neighboring village.