In Africa, animal imagery is used to teach moral and historical lessons. Distinctive physical or behavioral traits may be combined to create mythical creatures with greater powers. These Bamana crest masks combine the horns of the antelope, the body of the aardvark and the textured skin of the pangolin--all animals that dig in the earth. A human element is suggested by the mother carrying her child on her back and the wearing of jewelry (earrings). Despite regional stylistic differences, they all represent Chi Wara, the supernatural being who taught people to farm.
Young men wear paired male and female masks in dances that praise and encourage good farmers. However, because of the introduction of the yoked plow, conversion to Islam and changes in patterns of employment and schooling, the performances have become increasingly more of a popular entertainment than an initiation society ceremony.
Wood female antelope crest mask with a small male on her back. The mask has copper alloy rings on the horns, black and white glass beads strung in the tip of the nose and red thread earrings.
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010