Bamana initiation, called dyow, is a unified body of knowledge divided into six stages: the N’domo, Komo, Nama, Kono, Tyi wara, and Korè. The progressive movement of man through dyow encompasses his passage from self-knowledge (where all knowledge is said to begin), to comprehension of the Creator. Dyow reshapes the personal self-identity developed during childhood, recentering and reorienting it into the larger cosmic structure. French anthropologist Dominique Zahan studied the Bamana and summarized dyow as such:
The knowledge of self (n’domo) engenders the investigation of the subject of knowledge itself (komo) and leads man to confront what is social (nama). From this is born judgment and moral consciousness (kono), owing to which knowledge approaches the cosmos (tyi wara) in order to terminate in the divinity (korè).
Self-mastery is a highly valued concept among the Bamana and many of their proverbs address its importance. Their concept of self- mastery places emphasis on knowledge (as with the Dogon), however, bodily coercion is the primary means by which knowledge and the rebirth of the person is achieved similar to the n'kanga. Bamana thought views dyow as a microcosm of life, which they have found can be understood through the body. Like the human body, initiation is a unified system. Apparently, Afrikans have discovered the relationship between the self (total person), the physical body, and the ability to assimilate knowledge; they have found that knowledge best takes root when accompanied by a reorientation of the self via the physical body.
The various levels of dyow teach the symbolism of different body parts and their inner significance. N’domo, the first level, is entered upon as the Bamana puberty rite. Elders teach uncircumcised youth the foundations of their culture, explicating at this stage, the spiritual significance of the feet, ankles and lower limbs. When instruction at this level is completed, circumcision is performed. According to both the Bamana and the Dogon, before the development of culture, humanity was “androgynous” and continues to possess latent androgyny or twinness. For a male child, the penile foreskin contains his original femininity, and for a female child, the prepuce of the clitoris contains her original masculinity. They believe that a person cannot function properly under the double influence of masculinity and femininity and a consequence of remaining uncircumcised is that the urge to procreate will be stifled. By removing the skin from these corresponding areas, circumcision ends the androgynous condition, thereby making one more fully male or female. Ultimately, the purpose of circumcision is to facilitate concentration on the complementary sex, knowledge, the soul, immortality, agriculture and the Creator, things that synthesize the inner and outer life.
The second level of dyow called Komo, where speech and the sense of touch are important, teaches the initiate about knowledge and its relationship to the human being.
On the Nama level, the actual complementary relationship between seeming opposites such as the spirit and the body, man and woman and good and evil, are explained to the initiate, along with the inner significance of the genitalia and the sense of smell.
Kono, the fourth level, deals with the nature of humanness. As the inexorable twinness or interdependence of the spirit and the body are elucidated, initiates are taught how the senses of hearing and smell are connected to human intellectual discrimination.
Tyi wara, the fifth level of initiation, pertains to the physical or material world. During this phase, the sun, earth, animals, and plants are explained in (inter)relationship to people.
In the Afrikan worldview, each human being is considered intrinsically divine, whether the person is aware of it or not. The purpose of initiation is to establish conscious awareness of it. Korè, its final stage karaw, concerned itself with just that — the (re)spiritualization and (re)divinization of the human being. This is necessary to make the initiate “immortal” in the spiritual sense and as such, “equal” to the Creator.
What makes it possible for a person to “resist” the Creator’s reabsorption? Korè accomplishes this through the sublimation of pain and overcoming the fear of death. Rigorous and painful physical exercises mark each stage and class of Korè. The initiate that flinches or cries out, shows his constitution is more external and self-centered than oriented toward inner life. The initiate must learn to transform noise into silence, suffering into serenity. For the Bamana, physical death signifies the final initiatory stage, for then the person has entered silence. Entry into silence, yo, is evident in the reaction of the dead to pain — they have no reaction, because they have transcended it. Thus, the “dead” body symbolizes that the elder’s development and transformation are complete.