Serpent Devouring a Human Figure

circa 11th-17th century

Djenné Peoples
Place Made
Mali: Inland Niger Delta Region
5 1/4 x 6 1/2 x 10 1/2 in (13.335 x 16.51 x 26.67 cm)
Credit Line
Museum purchase, Robert P. Gordy Fund
Accession #

Sculptural representations of serpents eating or emerging from human flesh are common in terra cotta works from the Inland Niger Delta. Serpents held a significant role within the history and beliefs of this region.

In the Dogon creation story, it is believed that after the burial of the first human to experience death, his decendents dug up his grave only to find a serpent in place of his remains. It is also said that the Soninke Empire fell during the 11th century when the annual sacrifice of a female virgin to the serpent Bida, considered one of the offspring of the empire's founder, was not performed.

This sculpture, and possible ritual object, depicts a serpent coiled and in the act of swallowing a human figure whole.