Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century Wood Gift of Allan Gerdau (78.261) Height: 132cm Additional images may be viewed in Argus

Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century
Wood
Gift of Allan Gerdau (78.261)
Height: 132cm
Additional images may be viewed in Argus

Guiding Questions

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

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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.

The Bamana males wear the head crests and perform the chi wara 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.

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

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

Headcrest in Form of an Antelope with Kid (chi wara) Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century Wood Gift of Samuel Rubin (61.85.2) Height: 76 cm

Headcrest in Form of an Antelope with Kid (chi wara)
Mali, Bamana people, 1st half of 20th century
Wood
Gift of Samuel Rubin (61.85.2)
Height: 76 cm