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, with the introduction of agriculture to the Bamana. The majority of Bambara peoples are 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. When humans gradually became careless and wasteful, however, the Chiwara is said to have buried himself in the earth. To honor Chiwara, the BAmhara created a boli, a power object in which its spirit could reside, and carved the intricate headdresses such as these. The Chiwara headdresses combine antelope features with those of other animals that are significant within Bamana culture, such as the earth-digging aardvark or the armored pangolin.  Both these animals are known for being expert digggers of the earth. The elegant and tapered heads of the sculptures, along with the neck, ears, and horns, are modeled on antelope forms. The lower part of the sculpture refers to the aardvark. These headdresses are also characterized by decoration with pierced openwork designs, which create an interplay between positive and negative space, and finely incised geometric patterns.  

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 and have been darkly dyed. 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.