Saturday, October 01, 2005


Detail of Chiwara Mask from Bambara of Mali, Africa. The first time I saw a chiwara mask was in the video, African Art, which had just a small clip of people in a small village talking about the importance of this ritual dance, done just before planting. The dance/ritual commemorated how the Bambara learned how to till the ground with a tool rather than by hand, probably adapted from the antelope's horns. The video vividly shows the mask in context, costume, drum, music, and that thin line between forest and field. But a photograph can never capture the artifact itself -- which Gary Westford has made more accessible to us by creating the library display at LBCC. Very few of us can ever hope to see the chiwara mask as it was meant to be experienced, at the center of ritual.

This impressive mask is about 3 feet tall, with intricate carvings. Some sources report that only men dance with the chiwara mask; however, the masks themselves answer this question as we can see two styles of chiwara -- male and female. Gary's mask (above) shows a male mask; the woman's mask inclues a baby antelope; she symbolizes the earth, the baby symbolizes humankind.

The costume in the African Art video is made of raffia (a kind of straw), and Parrinder (see below) shows a mask with black and white cloth decorated with symbols of the universe. The ritual itself is to ensure fertility -- of the crops and of the community, much like the underlying roots to our own Passover or Easter for spring planting, and then in the fall, somewhat like Succot or Thanksgiving for harvest.Posted by Picasa

3 comments:

jiri said...

Hey, I have enjoyed...your blog is informative - even entertaining.

I have a halloween sites. They pretty much covers costumes and masks related stuff.

Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.

Connor Wilson said...

Every year my son Dylan and I have been building our Halloween animatronic display. This year we added 12 new figures and my wife had been making the clothes etc. but then I clued in that Halloween Costumes were the ideal solution - ya, ok I'm slow but...This year is really cool because we've done an HP Lovecraft display that I'm sure he'd appreciate but I'm not so sure he'd approve of this - The Necronomicon - Is it just me or is that just plain goofy ? Anyway, everybody is doing their own Haunted House thing now but hey - it's fun and if you've got kids I really suggest you try it yourself if you haven't already. It's a nice change from the usual Christmas Lights routine and a lot of scaaarrry fun. Happy Halloween everybody.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the photo and comments on the chiwara. The internet, as far as I can tell, does not capture the full range and style of the carvings. There are 4-5 different styles, and many variations within each. I've presented some variations in the vertical carvings (like yours) on Picasa Larry W Harms. The photos are about 30 years old, so I've presented them as black and white. These photos are simply a sample of the breadth what exits with the vertical style.
Long live elements of the proud traditonal Africa! Larry