Loma people

Toma / Loma

Toma / Loma / Toale

The Loma people, sometimes called Loghoma, Looma, Lorma or Toma, are a West African ethnic group living primarily in mountainous, sparsely populated regions near the border between Guinea and Liberia.

Loma people

The Toma people of Guinea (known as Loma in Liberia) live in the high-altitude rain forest lying across the Guinea-Liberia border. Artistically, their reputation rests on their Landai mask which has an articulated crocodile jaw and a flattened, stylized human face. This mask symbolically devours Poro society candidates at the end of their initiation period, after which they are revived as full members of this sodality. Some rare figures exist which are kept within each household.” Source: Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1998. Print.

They organized their political and religious life around the poro association. This society was, among other things, responsible for the initiation of young boys that took place in the forest, which is particularly dense in the land of the Toma. When called forth by the landai (landa), a large mask, the future initiates would leave “on retreat” for the forest for a month. The landai, a horizontal unusually free, abstract wooden mask, has the mouth of a crocodile on which human features have been sculpted: a straight nose underneath arched eyebrows. The jaw is sometimes articulated, sometimes depicted by a horizontal line that creates a second volume perpendicular to the first. The top is surmounted by a headdress of feathers and the wearer looks through the snout. The largest known landai mask was 1.82 m in height. Its frightening image represented the major forest spirit which made manifest the power of poro; one of its duties was symbolically to devour boys at the end of their initiation period in order to give them rebirth as men. Only men wore these masks, which were fitted over the wearer's head horizontally.

The Loma speak a language in the Southwestern branch of the Mande languages, belonging to the Niger-Congo family of languages. The language is similar to the Kpelle, Mende, Gola, Vai, and Bandi languages. The Loma refer to their language as Löömàgòòi or Löghömàgòòi. The Loma people, led by Wido Zobo and assisted by a Loma weaver named Moriba, developed a writing script for their language in the 1930s. This writing script contains at least 185 characters.

The Mandinka, Koniaka, and Kissi refer to the Loma as Toma. Loma refer to themselves as Löömàgìtì. They have retained their Traditional Religion, and resisted the Islamic jihads. The Loma people called the religious conflict with Mandinka people as a historic 'rolling war'.

The Loma people are notable for their large wooden masks that merge syncretic animal and human motifs. These masks have been a part of their Poro secret rites of passage. The largest masks are about six feet high, contain feather decorations and believed by Loma to have forest spirits.

The Loma people farm rice, but in shifting farms. They are exogamous people, with patrilineal social organization in matters related to inheritance, succession and lineage affiliations with one-marriage rule. Joint families, or virilocal communities are common, wherein families of brothers settle close to each other.

The Loma people are also referred to as Buzi, Buzzi, Logoma, Toale, Toali, Toa, or Tooma.

Toma people


Many Loma in Guinea nonetheless continued to practice their religion clandestinely, often sending youths to Liberia for their initiation . In 1985, not long after the death of Sekou Toure, the image of a Loma Poro Society nyangbai mask suddenly appeared on the face of Guinea's newly issued 25 franc notes; however, it was not clear whether the PDG meant to signal a new attitude toward indigenous cultural institutions or merely to appropriate a powerful symbol. jbjerg (1990) writes that "with a shift to a more liberal attitude towards the practice of traditional rituals throughout the country on behalf of the Guinean government since 1986, a veritable explosion in the number of initiation sessions has occurred in the southeast forest region [near Macenta]. Changes can be observed in the number of neophytes joining the sacred grove and in the length of the initiation rites. Whereas the Poro initiation lasts for some weeks among the Mano, Mende and Kpelle, the Toma [i.e., Loma] have in recent years performed rites of a one year duration."

Toma people

Political Organization

The hinterland political system in Liberia has undergone periodic changes in its administrative hierarchy but retains all the early features of indirect governance. The five original hinterland districts that became the Western, Central, and Eastern Provinces in 1932 were replaced in 1964 by a county system administered through county superintendents. The county superintendent (rather than provincial commissioner) is
responsible for several district commissioners and their assistants, to whom Loma paramount chiefs report. There are two Loma paramount chiefdoms in Liberia, the Bondi-Wubomai and Loma chiefdoms, to the north and south respectively. In theory, the paramount chieftaincy is an elective office for which any Loma may run, although in practice the office is nearly always filled by a former clan chief.
The use of the term clan bears explanation. When the system of paramount chieftaincies was initiated during Arthur Barclay's administration , traditional leadership was retained in all but a few instances. The administration's uniform recognition of the claims of numerous local "kings" (zuimassagi) eventually resulted in a proliferation of paramount chieftaincies of varying size and scope, "all pressing their
own interests as equal and autonomous entities before the government". In the early 1930s, in an effort to consolidate his administration's control of the hinterland, President Edwin Barclay reorganized the nation's paramount chiefdoms into political and territorial divisions called clans. Although the new clan chiefs retained authority over virtually the same jurisdictions (i.e., their former paramount chiefdoms), they now reported to a newly appointed (or sometimes reappointed) paramount chief, usually selected from among their group. While the change brought increased authority to the "new" paramount chiefs, it spelled a loss of status for the clan chiefs, whose direct access to the hinterland administration was thereby lost. The term clan, in short, refers to politico-territorial units that were prevalent at the time of hinterland reorganization in the 1930s, but bears only a distant relationship to the term's ordinary use in anthropological parlance. With the reorganization of the hinterland into larger administrative units, Bondi and Wubomai were consolidated into what became known as the Amalgamated Bondi-Wubomai Paramount Chiefdom, and separated from a neighboring mixed Loma-Malinke chiefdom, Waiglomai-Woniglomai (later renamed Koidu-Boni). Today, the Bondi-Wubomai Chiefdom comprises three clans: Bondi (formerly Bondi Chiefdom), Upper Workor (Workormazu), and Lower Workor (Workorbu). Just as paramount chiefdoms include several clans, clans in turn comprise several smaller units called sections. A clan section is administered by a sectional town chief responsible for the towns and villages under his jurisdiction. Lower Workor Clan, for instance, has three sectional town chiefs representing a total of eighteen towns. Each town has a chief who is responsible for the villages in his jurisdiction and for ward (or "quarter") chiefs, the smallest administrative unit. Like the paramount chieftaincy, the offices of the clan chief, sectional town chief, and town chief are all elective offices.

Toma people

Language and Ethnic Identity

Loma is classified as a Southwestern Mande language (Dwyer 1989; Greenberg 1963). Though Loma scoff at the suggestion that their language is derived from Mandekan (the language of their Mandingo, Maninka, Manya and Konianke neighbors), they recognize a linguistic affinity with the other southwestern Mande speakers, the Kpelle, Mende, and Bandi (whom they say speak Loma "upside-down"). The
fifth member of the southwestern Mande group, the Landogo (i.e., Lokko), live some two hundred miles to the west in Sierra Leone, perhaps as a result of the Mane invasions (Person 1961; Speed 1991); but the Loma and Landogo are apparently unknown to each other. The Manya, Konianke and Kissi refer to the Loma as Toma, an ethnonym widely adopted by Francophone ethnologists and American art historians which has all but replaced the terms Bousie, Buzi, Domar-Buzi and Waymar-Buzi used by an earlier generation of writers. Today, Loma call themselves Lomagiti (or Logomagiti in some dialects in Guinea), "the Loma people," and speak Lomagui. Many follow Liberian orthographic conventions and write about themselves as Lorma.
The four principal dialects distinguished by Loma in the Wubomai region are named for their provenance (Wubomai, Gizzima, Bonde and Lulama). Popular legend attributes the distribution of these dialects to the territories settled by the seven sons of the Loma king Fala Wubo (hence Wubomai, "followers of Wubo")." In addition to implying relative distance, dialectical differences also denote minor cultural differences among Loma. Wubomai Loma, for instance, describe differences in mortuary custom and sacrificial rites between themselves, Bonde, and Gizzima, and profess to follow many of the customs of neighboring Lulama. Likewise, Gizzima Loma and speakers of the Lulama dialect apparently used birth-order names in the past, but today such names are absent. Finally, during initiation rites, all Loma are cicatrized on their waists and torsos (women) or backs (men) in a manner that easily identifies their place of birth or initiation.


Ecology and Economy

Most Loma settlements fall within the tropical rain forest zone or (furthest to the north) a transitional ecological zone where moist, dense, semi-deciduous forest gradually gives way to derived savannah. A landscape dotted with gently rolling hills along the coastal plane is accompanied by more steeply sided hills in the northern plateau, where elevations occasionally exceed 2,500 feet. The terrain throughout is characterized by massive domelike dolerite and granite outcroppings and myriad small, winding streams.
Early descriptions of the Loma region occasionally mention towns with populations exceeding 8,000 (see, e.g., L:Honore Naber 1910; Alldridge 1901), but these were certainly exceptional instances where warfare induced Loma to gather in large numbers for protection. Lomaland is sparsely populated even by regional standards, with roughly 40 to 50 individuals per square mile (Nelson 1984; Hasselman 1979). Prior to the recent civil war, the density of settlement was greatest in the areas surrounding the cities of Zorzor and Voinjama (Liberia) and Macenta (Guinea), which had multi-ethnic urban populations in excess of 5,000. Loma towns seldom have more than 500 residents and settlements with populations between one and three hundred are common.
Average annual rainfall in Voinjama District, Liberia, a point midway along the forest-savannah continuum, is 110 inches or roughly nine feet. The wet season (sdmdi) lasts six to seven months, beginning in late April or early May and ending in late October or early November. The seasonal oscillation of wet and dry that distinguishes the agricultural cycle is also responsible for a marked contrast in the social life of the
community. During the more arduous periods of the wet-season agricultural cycle, Loma families occasionally remain "on farm" in temporary, open-sided "kitchens" where daily meals are prepared and foodstuffs stored, and which house them during severe
rains. Some reside with several other families in permanent "bush" villages near their seasonal farms, sparing them a lengthy walk from town to farm and back again each day. In the wet season, individual or family agricultural tasks render Loma towns quiet and nearly vacant. By contrast, the town's population during the dry season (fowl) is larger and considerably more gregarious. During this period Loma conduct significantly more community business (taa-fai), community sacrifices and funeral rites. Initiation into the men's and women's societies always occurs before the arrival of the wet season.

Loma grow several varieties of upland rice by a method of shifting cultivation (Currens 1974). Each year, numerous small plots of land are cleared, burned, and planted with a variety of cultigens, after which the land lays fallow for seven to twentyfive years. Upland rice is interspersed with beans, eddoes, maize, okra, peppers, plantain, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes, and cassava (whose leaves, rather than tubers, are most highly valued). Tubers often lay buried until the following year, when groundnuts and sugar cane may be planted in fields that have begun to return to bush. In addition to the independent swiddens which women occasionally maintain, they often cultivate small gardens close by their homes or on the periphery of town, where they grow various leaves for preparing sauces. Both men and women plant forest tree crops such as kola, banana, pineapple, orange, and avocado - legacies of European coastal trading. Though agriculture provides the bulk of their diet, hunting, fishing and gathering (principally palm kernel oil, several varieties of palm wine, leaves,
tobogii and other spices) contribute substantially to Loma meals. Most Loma men cultivate cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, kola and groundnuts, as well as sugar cane, which can be distilled into an alcoholic beverage called cane juice. Land is held in trust by the community. All trees except the palm are heritable property.