Crest Mask: Male Antelope (Chi Wara)
40 9/16 x 2 15/16 x 13 9/16 in. (103 x 7.5 x 34.5 cm)
Bamana; made in Mali
Medium and Support:
Wood, fiber, and metal
Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Location: Currently on view
In many cultures, gods and spirits take the form of animals. Selected for their physical or behavioral traits, features of different animals are combined to create mythical creatures whose symbolic powers are greater than those of ordinary beasts. This antelope crest mask combines the curved horns of an antelope, the curious snout and scales of a pangolin (a kind of anteater) and the squat body of an aardvark—all animals that dig up the earth. This makes the mask a fitting representations of Chi Wara, the supernatural being the Bamana believe taught humans to farm. Chi wara masks were worn in male/female pairs during dance performances in the fields that taught and encouraged good farming. Today, because of conversion to Islam and a variety of social changes due to westernization, the Chi Wara masquerade is now performed for entertainment and cultural pride.
The small pieces of red cloth attached to the snout of this male Chi Wara may have originated in the woolen bandages imported by the French during the First World War. In Bamana culture, red is the color of danger and is often restricted to men of certain status.
[Gallery label text, 2009]