African Secret Society of the Komo

This Black History Month episode of Count Time Podcast is an excerpt from interview with Dr. Ibrahima Seck Pt2 as he describes the African rites of passage from teenager to the world of the adults. This African initiation society led by The Mask has links to the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans.

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Count Time Podcast Living Legend Dr. Ibrahima Seck

Kòmò Helmet Mask, 19th–mid-20th century, West Africa, Komo or Koma Power Association, Wood, bird skull, porcupine quills, horns, cotton, sacrificial materials, 35.2 x 22.1 x 85.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Black History Month with LD Azobra “African Secret Society of the Komo”

The headdress above was made and used by a member of the Komo society.  Komo association members enforce community laws, make judicial decisions, and offer protection from illness, misfortune, and malevolent forces. The headdress embodies the secret knowledge and awesome power of the society; its rough and unattractive form is therefore intended to be visually intimidating.

Good evening. Good evening. Good evening it’s 4:00 PM. Stand up it’s count time, time for every man and woman to stand up and be counted. Welcome to another edition of Count Time podcast. I am brother LD Azobra formerly named Lyman white. Thank you for joining us today.

I like for you to share with us before we get started, some other dialogue about coming up in Africa through the secret society.

Komo maskers at funeral
Komo maskers at funeral

DIS
The secret society of the Komo, the mask society, which I linked to the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans. Bookies called Congo Tiggi. Congo Tiggi Congo is the Savannah, the Bush, the wilderness and the lion is not the King of the Savannah.

LD
Hold on the hyena?

DIS
It is the hyena. The hyena we have in folktales is different from the hyena we have in the secret societies.

LD
Hold on. What you mean when I hear secret societies…

Komo mask and costume

DIS
That means when you grow up in Africa, traditional Africa, you go through different rites of passage. You have society of the uncircumcised children. But then they become teenagers and they go through initiation to get into the home or the adult of the adults in the world of the adults. So the adults pull them into that section of their life, the midlife. You become an adult, you become responsible. You get married.

But it has to go through a lot of drilling, it starts with circumcision. It goes with a lot of drilling or a lot of education, they take you into the sacred forest under the surveillance of the mask.

LD
Hold on, hold on. So there’s a concept that every child in Africa already go through secret societies.

Kankurang, Manding initiatory rite
Kankurang, Manding initiatory rite

DIS
I’m talking about secret societies. I’m not talking about gangs or something. It is something that is well organized and only the people who are initiated know what is inside. All of them have access to the sacred forest. All of them. Only they have access to the meetings of the Komo society. You are under the protection of the mask. And the mask is in some society they call it the mystery. Like in Senegal, we have a mask society called Kumpo. It means mystery. And you know that’s really the strength of the society is based on mystery.

Not everybody is allowed to know what is going on in there. And if you get in there, you are not supposed to be in there. You’re dead. Or if you are part of the society and you go outside and you reveal, you tell people, outsiders what is going on here. They make the night eat you. That means the mask came to get him in the middle of the night and you just disappear. It is a man with a mask accompanied by warriors who are the responsible of the mask. They come and get you just like the police. Better than that. Like Special forces.

Mali
The rite of wisdom in Mali

For the Bambara, Malinké, Senufo and Samogo peoples of Mali, the secret society of the Kôrêdugaw is a rite of wisdom performed at festivals and many other occasions. Initiates provoke laughter with behaviour characterized by gluttony, caustic humour and wit, but also possess great intelligence and wisdom. The society educates, trains and prepares children to cope with life and to deal with social problems. The Kôrêdugaw symbolize generosity, tolerance, inoffensiveness and mastery of knowledge, embodying the rules of conduct that they advocate for others.

African Secret Society of the Komo