Chiwara Sculpture (pair) - Bambara

  • $400.00
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Authentic wooden carved Chiwara set of male and female figures used in actual ceremonial dance by the Bambara peoples of Mali.  

The male figure stands at approximately 4 feet; the female figure at 3-1/2 feet from bottom to top of horns.  

Among the Bambara of Mali, a mythical being named Chiwara, a divine being half mortal and half animal introduced agriculture to the Bambara who are mostly subsistence farmers. These headdresses are carved to honor the sacred Chiwara.  Oral tradition tells that humans first learned to cultivate the land and became prosperous and able farmers then eventually became careless and wasteful as a result the Chiwara who embodied the spirit of agriculture is said to have buried himself in the earth. To honor Chiwara, the Bambara created a boli, a power object in which its spirit could reside, and carved the intricate headdresses to be used in ceremony.

The Chiwara headdresses combines antelope features with other animals that are significant to Bambara culture, such as the earth-digging aardvark and the armored pangolin.  Both these animals are known for being expert dinters of the earth. The elegant and tapered heads of the sculptures, along with the neck, ears, and horns, are modeled after antelope forms. The lower part of the sculpture refers to the aardvark.

Chiwara performances feature a pair of headdresses, one male and one female, worn by two skilled young male dancers. The male and female Chiwara serve as multifaceted metaphors for the elemental forces upon which all humanity depends. The infant on the female's back represents the embodiment of humanity and as a visual reference to the relationship between the powerful Sun (the male) and the gentle, nurturing Earth (the female).  The openwork zigzag carving of the male figure's neck and mane invokes the sun's rays and its dance amongst the cosmos. The performers' costumes are made of long raffia fibers that stretch from the base of the headdress to the ground. The raffia fibers sway and bounce which are intended to mimic those of the antelope. The undulations of the raffia costume are also a subtle reference to water and add to the overall metaphor of the performance as a convergence of the elemental forces of sun, earth, and water. The masquerade performances begin outside the village in the fields and gradually travel to the village center. Women also play an integral part during the masquerading ceremonies by singing songs of praise for Chiwara and the hard-working farmers.