Artist: Bamana peoples
Period: 19th-20th century
Materials: Wood, fibre, leather
Dimensions: H. 109.8cm W. 25.5cm Depth: 25.5cm
Part of a dynamic and constantly developing tradition, ci wara headdresses were initially danced in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by a men’s association responsible for safeguarding secret information imparted to them by a mythical beast of the same name, credited with inventing agriculture. Later, these mask forms were adopted by secular age-grade organizations that focused on teaching young members about farming and social responsibility. In contemporary Mali culture, these sacred and secular institutions coexist.
Ci wara headdresses are performed in pairs, one dancer wearing the larger male animal mask, an amalgamation of roan antelope, aardvark and anteater, the other wearing a female oryx antelope mask. The Lang headdress is an example of the female version. The figure and the fawn on her back are adorned with incised geometric shapes and shallow spiral ridges on their nearly vertical horns. In the masquerade, the fibrous cap that supports them is attached to a long costume of raffia fronds that reaches the ground. As the dancers move, bending over their hand-held sticks to imitate the movements of the quadruped ci wara, watchers see their headdresses dramatically alter shape, from a thin vertical line to an intricate pattern of solid and void when seen from the side. The male represents the sun, the female the earth, the fawn humanity and the long strands of raffia the rain—all the elements of successful agriculture for the Bamana.
Among the most widely known of African art forms, ci wara headdresses have migrated from their Bamana roots to become a national symbol, even forming the logo for the country’s official airline, Air Mali.