Headcrest in Form of an Antelope

Headcrest in Form of an Antelope (chi-- wara)
Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century
Gift of Allan Gerdau
Height: 132cm

Headcrest in Form of an Antelope with Kid (chi-- wara)
Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century
Gift of Samuel Rubin
Height: 76 cm

Guiding Questions
Take a moment and look at these pieces of art. How are they are similar and how they are different?

How do you think these objects might have been used?

What do you think these objects might depicting?

About the Art
These are head crests are worn by the Bamana people of Mali in Africa during a ritual dance. The head crests represent the spirit of chi-wara, a mythical being who is part human and part antelope. The chi-wara taught humans how to farm the land, but left after humans grew careless and wasteful. The Bamana people created the chi-wara head crests and dance as a way to commemorate the gift of the chi-wara spirit.

Bamana masqueraders with chi-wara headdress
Bamako region, Mali
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1971
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

The Bamana males wear the head crests and perform the chiwara dance at times of planting and harvest. These crests are attached to wicker caps and are worn atop the head, along with a full body-concealing costume made of raffia that represents water. The dancers make leaping and ground-pawing motions in imitation of antelope. The male chi-wara have curved horns and open-work designs. The female have straight horns and carry a baby antelope on their back. The male chi-wara symbolizes the sun, strength, and growth. The female symbolizes the earth and the plowed field.

The Bamana Antelope headcrest shows the same animal as Paik’s Anten-nalope. How are they similar or different? Which do you think looks more like the real animal?

Additional Resources
Another example of Chi-wara headdress with additional information: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1978.412.435

Art of Africa Learning Resources, St. Louis Art Museum: http://www.slam.org/Africa/index.html

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