Baninko region, Mali
Pair of Headdresses (Ci Wara Kunw)

Mid-19th/early 20th century
Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses
Left: 98.4 x 40.9 x 10.8 cm (38 3/4 x 16 1/8 x 4 1/4 in.); right: 79.4 x 31.8 x 7.6 cm (31 1/4 x 12 1/2 x 3 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1965.6–7

The Bamana of southern Mali have long considered farming to be among the most noble of professions. Ci Wara (chee WAH rah), meaning “farming beast,” is the name of an organization that is devoted to practical and ritual activities that encourage successful farming. The most spectacular manifestation of the group is the Ci Wara masquerade, in which headdresses such as these are used in paired dances to encourage men to work like “farming animals” to maintain the livelihood of their families and community.

The zoomorphic forms of the headdresses refer to the attributes of several animals. The tall horns and elaborate mane of the male antelope evoke the graceful strength and bounding energy vital to Bamana farmers, who spend long hours hoeing, planting, and harvesting millet and corn in hot, dry fields. The anteater’s stocky body and its narrow, tapered face, used for burrowing into the earth, suggest the endurance and determination required by farmers who plant seeds by hand. In addition, the female figure carries a baby on her back, mimicking the way Bamana women carry their infants and referring symbolically to agricultural fertility. The pairing of male and female in the headdresses stresses the cooperation that is essential for successful farming.

In performance, Ci Wara headdresses are attached to basketry caps worn on top of dancers’ heads. Long raffia fibers, dyed black, fall from the caps and cover the dancers’ faces and bodies. Bending forward, they hold long sticks in front of them to represent the antelope’s front legs. A female chorus accompanies the male dancers and praises the virtues of an ideal farmer, while the men imitate the movement, play, and bounding leaps of the antelope. In the past, performers usually accompanied farmers to the fields to dance. Today, performances take place in the village, providing entertainment for the whole community.