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Making the Grade: Symbolism and the Meaning of Metals in Poro Art of West Africa

ISBN: 9780979329005
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MAKING THE GRADE: Symbolism and the Meaning of Metals in Poro Art of Western Africa. xx, 443 pages, text, 491 full color illustrations of masks, figures, and sacred artifacts, 6 maps, 7 Tables, References, Bibliograpy, Index. (Hardcover)

"It is impossible to fully appreciate certain West African material art objects without first understanding the Poro men's secret society, by whom and for whom they were made, and in whose rituals they were used."

"Because of the extraordinary secrecy surrounding Poro rituals, Western observers have traditionally uncovered very little useful information, with the expected resulting confusion in the literature. Conversely, the deeper one's understanding of Poro material art, the greater will be the understanding of the structure and functions of the Poro society, its traditions and rituals." -- Neil Carey

This monumental study by Dr. Neil Carey is the most significant advancement in Poro studies since the seminal works of George Harley and George Schwab in the first half of the twentieth century. Successfully penetrating many secrets of the Poro men's secret society and related groups of West Africa, the author clearly discusses their sacred symbolism as revealed through in-depth analyses of secret society masks, figures, and ritual artifacts. Topics covered include: Art and Artifact of the Poro Circumcision Ritual; Scarification Patterns on Poro Sculpture; Publicly Seen, Non-Lethal Means of Social Control;  Summons, Arbitration, and Judgment;  Secret Masks of the Elders; Form as an Indicator of Identity and Status. 

Carey extensively analyzes symbolism in Poro-related art, including the usage of colors, animals and animal parts, metals, and handedness, as indicators of identity, grade, function, and status in Poro culture. Sacred art of the more commonly known ethnic groups along the Guinea Coast of West Africa are analyzed in depth, including the art of the Dan, Mano, Kono, Kpelle (Guérzé), Loma (Toma), Mende, Gola, Kran (Guéré), Wobé, Bété, Grebo, Bassa, Baule, Senufo, and Vai, as well as lesser known and rarely seen art of the Belle (Kuwaa), Gbandi, Kissi, Koranko, Nyabwa, and Sapo. Included are the results of X-ray fluorescence (XRF) assays performed on metal or metal-containing objects from the Haffenreffer Museum at Brown University, the Nasher Museum at Duke University, the American Museum of Natural History, as well as several important private collections from the US and abroad. Emphasis is placed on the symbolism and usage of aluminum, copper, brass, and iron, as well as the revelation of a recently discovered lead alloy mask central to the Dan Poro expansion ritual. All objects are beautifully illustrated with large format, full page color photographs.

This is an essential manuscript for anthropologists, ethnographers, art historians, and collectors, and is one of the few books that enable the reader to truly understand the meanings of many West African Art objects.


About the Author

Dr. Neil Carey is an independent scholar, researcher, Africanist, physician, and collector, who began field work in Africa in 1987. For over fifteen years he specialized in the art and material culture of the Poro mens' secret society and related groups of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast along the Guinea Coast of West Africa, with special interest in the symbology and ritual usage of Poro art and artifacts. He is the author of several books and papers on the art and culture of the Poro.

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