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. 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 crest mask composed of a composite animal form attached with fiber cord to a basketry cap. The animal is four legged with a head like an aardvark or donkey, long ears and an overall chip carved skin. On its back is an X-form surrounded by a crescent arch topped by two straight thin horns in front, two oval ears and backward curving horns on top.
Samuel Rubin, New York, -- to 1979
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
Thinking with Animals: African Images and Perceptions, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 24-September 7, 1982
National Museum of African Art. 1982. Thinking with Animals: African Images and Perceptions. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, cover.