moved to their relatively inaccessible homeland along the Bandiagara escarpment in the fifteenth century to escape from religious and political conflicts in the Niger River Valley. In cliff-top villages, they developed a distinctive, austerely beautiful art and architecture and a religion with a highly symbolic vision of the world. To this day, many of their art forms continue to be part of daily life. Sculptures are used as altars to honor ancestors, and many of them bear traces of animal blood and millet gruel used as sacrificial offerings.
The Bamana, mainly farmers like the Dogon, live in the Niger River valley and are the largest group in Mali. Some of their art, like the Ciwara antelope headdress, is related to celebrating and ensuring a successful harvest. Their more fearsome masks are kept secret from women and are related to an elaborate system of male initiation. Statues of females not only portray ideals of beauty but also are used in rituals to ensure fertility. Both Bamana and Dogon art share a tendency toward abstraction and simplification of forms.
The Tusyan, Lobi, and Mossi in Burkina Faso make masks and figures that are used in a variety of contexts. Masks often represent animals. When they appear in masquerades they are believed to bring with them the spirit of the untamed wilderness. Carved human figures protect Lobi communities and represent ancestors among the Mossi.