Bamana abstract Tji-wara, Mali
early to mid 20th century
ex private collection, Austria
ex private collection, France
This headdress represents the comparatively more abstract type of Chi Wara mask; which is found primarily in
the Ouassoulou region of the southwestern Bamana area. It shows a typical combination of three different
species of animal - the aardvark, the pangolin, and the roan antelope.
All three animals are symbolically linked in the Bamana farming community with tilling the soil. The aardvark and
pangolin, especially, are associated with the growth of sorghum, the Bamana's most important grain crop. The
aardvark's ability to dig rapidly into the ground and create a network of subterranean tunnels and chambers
recalls the men's skill at working the fields, as well as the deep root system formed by the germinating sorghum
seeds. The pangolin, in contrast, which lives mostly on the ground and in trees, recalls the windblown stalks of
millet, which are stabilized by air-roots anchored in the ground.