DescriptionBAMANA ANTELOPE HEADPIECE
(MALI, WESTERN AFRICA)
Under increasing Muslim influence, Bamana men's Chiwara masquerades have now become more secular. However, their original purpose is to safeguard the village food supply. The Chiwara society, in various spellings, uses paired male and female antelope headpieces in masquerades encouraging young men working in the fields at planting and harvest times. The dancers, bent over and using sticks to prop up their arms, imitate men using hoes to prepare fields for planting, but they also recall the four-legged movement of Chiwara, the "farming beast", a mythical antelope who taught Bamana ancestors to farm. The masquerade combines human and animal, village and wild elements for complete participation, ensuring the success of this vital activity. The young men selected to dance the masquerade are chosen to honor them for their success in farming. In some villages the training of young men carried out in the Ntomo initiation camp is completed by their participation in the Chiwara masquerade.
There are three broad styles of Chiwara headpieces. The "vertical style" features an openwork carving using one plank of wood. The upright male antelope has long, slightly curved horns and an intricate mane; the somewhat smaller, less elaborate female carries a fawn on her back in imitation of a woman carrying a child. A second, "horizontal" style is more volumetric and is carved from two pieces of wood joined at the neck. The third style is an abstract combination of various animals, often with a human figure as well. The present male Chiwara is a very simplified, abstract version of the vertical style. Its abrupt plane transitions are almost cubistic. It retains the dancer's basketry cap and a cowrie shell ornament. Both the carving and its black surface are in good condition.
Height: 14 ½ inches overall
Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500.
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