Chiwara Antelope Mask of Bamana People of Mali


In Bamana communities, the discovery of agriculture is credited to Chi Wara, a half antelope, half human mythical spirit who came to earth to teach humans how to farm. He is honored at both the sowing and the harvesting festivals. Dances are performed during planting and harvesting to pass on the secret skills of the Chiwara to both men and women. All able bodies are needed for farming, upon which the survival of their community depends.

Agriculture is the most important and noblest profession to the Bamana people. The tribes depend on this shared labor in order to produce corn, millet, sorghum, rice and beans from harsh, dry savannahs of western Africa. The Chiwara, who taught agriculture to their ancestors, literally means “laboring wild animal.”

The headdresses are danced in female and male pairs, each gender equally important. The masks are worn above costumes of raffia stalks to represent flowing water and a bountiful harvest. The Chiwara initiation society uses Chiwara masks, as well as dances and rituals, to teach young Bamana men social values as well as agricultural technique.

This very special wooden mask has a woven mesh accented with metal nails. It has beautiful etching. It measures 19 inches long, 5.25 inches wide and is 5 inches deep. This mask is quite uncommon and in excellent condition.

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