Traditional Religious Practices
Originally the Bambara subscribed solely to traditional ancestral worship, believing that their ancestors’ spirits took the form of animals and sometimes vegetables. Ceremonies are held to commune with these spirits. The ceremonies are led by the oldest member of each lineage, who acts as a sort of mediator between the world of the living and the world of the dead. During these ceremonies gifts of flour and water are presented to the spirits. (AfricaGuide)
Men must move through six societies known as the Dyow that educate them on the importance of knowledge, the dual nature of mankind, the value of hard labor, and information about everyday life. Part of moving through these societies is going through a symbolic death and rebirth. For each society there is a different mask. (Zyama)
The first society is called the Ntomo, which is for uncircumcised boys. The first mask associated with this society is an oval mask with four to ten horns in a row covered with dried red berries. The second mask associated with this society has a rigid nose, bulging mouth, and vertical horns with an animal in the front or middle. (Zyama)
Ntomo Mask
Men can only enter the second society, the Komo society, after being circumcised. In this society men learn about agriculture, passage rites, and judicial practices. This mask, worn horizontally over the head, is decorated with antelope horns, bird skulls, porcupine quills, and other parts of animals. (Zyama)

The fifth society, the Tji Wara, is associated with learning how to be a good farmer and has the most famous of the Bambara masks. This mask is an antelope, representing the half-antelope half-human being who taught men how to farm. The ritual dances associated with this society are always done in male-female pairs. The males represent the sun and the females represent the earth. (Zyama)

Tji Wara Male and Female Masks

The last and most prestigious society is the Kore, or the “father of the rain and thunder”. The members of this society go through a symbolic death and rebirth in the bushes of the sacred wood. There men here learn about the ideas of knowledge, energy, and courage through masks of hyenas, horses, lions, monkeys, and antelopes. (Zyama)
Kore Mask

Religious Changes Over Time:
While this tradition of ancestral worship is still practiced today, it is in combination with Islam. In fact, about 70% of the Bambara identify themselves as Muslim. The spread of Islam to the Bambara began in the 1800s when Muslim groups overthrew the Bambara kingdoms of Segu and Karta. Although by 1912, only 3% of the Bambara were Muslim. After World War II, though, the number of Muslim Bambara grew. This is because they were exposed to Muslim merchants and as a resistance to the French. (AfricaGuide)