Chi Wara (Antelope Headdress)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The social, economic and spiritual lives of Bamana men, in Southwestern Mali, are governed by six initiation societies collectively known as dyow (sing. dyo). The six societies are n'domo, komo, nama, kono, chi wara and kore. A Bamana man must pass through all six initiation societies respectively to be considered a rounded man with full insight into ancestral teachings and traditions.

Each initiation society has its own associated mask type (mostly zoomorphic, i.e. based on animal forms) including the chi wara (also called ci wara / tyi wara meaning 'labouring wild animal') dyo's antelope agriculture headdresses. The main aim of the chi wara dyo is to educate men on farming best practices and to honour Chi Wara, the cultural hero of the Bamana, who thought the skills of land cultivation to the Bamana. Members of the chi wara dyo perform dances with masquerades to not only celebrate their hero, Chi Wara, but to also ensure the fertility of their fields and to pray to the gods for a good harvest. The celebrations are also used to publicly acknowledge the expertise of successful farmers.

NOTE: The circumcised youth ton associations and the voluntary gonzon society also make use of headdresses similar to chi wara called n'gonzon koun.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all chi wara:

  • Made of wood
  • Headdresses represent the roan antelope (with varying degrees of abstraction)
  • Pair of high horns
  • Zig-zag motif across body and head
  • Body is geometric in form
  • Headdresses are attached to a small, flat basket-ware base and worn with a raffia costume
  • All headdresses are gendered

Sub-type variations (Horizontal Chi Wara):

  • Found in the Northern-Western Mali region in the area around the towns of Bamako and Beledugu / Beledougou
  • Described as the ‘horizontal style’
  • Parallel lines of base, body and head
  • Horizontal position of long, curved horns
  • Horns curve upwards & outwards
  • Horns sometimes enhanced with figures of women or birds
  • Mouth is often open
  • Head and mouth similar to the hornbill bird
  • Head and body of figure carved of separate pieces of wood and fixed together at the neck with a strip of metal
  • Back has a slight curvature
  • Surface of body carved with notches to depict fur
  • Tail sometimes curled up

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