Ci Wara Headdress (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

19th–20th century
Overall: 34 × 13 1/2 × 3 3/4 in. (86.4 × 34.3 × 9.5 cm)
Not on view
Chi wara—meaning “wild animal that works”—is a mythical creature that taught the Bamana people how to farm. The dramatic form of a chi wara headdress combines an antelope’s head and neck with the low-slung body of an aardvark. A basketry cap, lashed to the headdress by means of the four holes visible in the base, holds the sculpture on the dancer’s head.

Performances of the chi wara mask take place during times of planting and harvest and always include a male, like this mask, and a female (always shown with a young one on her back), because farming requires the work of both men and women. The chi wara ton, the Bamana organization through which agricultural training is handed down, likewise includes both male and female members.

The elongated, angular composition, especially in the head of this chi wara, is a classic example of Bamana design. A subgroup of Africa’s Mande-speaking people, the Bamana live in western Mali, not far from the mountainous region in Guinea where Mande civilization originated. Centuries ago, Mande migrations spread their language and art styles from the Guinea highlands eastward into Mali and westward to the Atlantic Coast. Evidence of this dispersion is clearly reflected in the stylistic similarities between the Bamana chi wara and the adjacent A’tshol head from the Baga people of Guinea’s Atlantic Coast. The Baga, who also trace their origins to the highlands, migrated to the coast during the fourteenth century.
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
“Grass Roots: African Origins of American Art.” New York: Museum for African Art. Charleston, SC: Gibbes Museum of Art. Los Angeles, CA: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Columbia, SC: McKissick Museum, New York: Museum for African Art. April 2008-Fall 2010.

“Spirit of the Motherland.” Roanoke: Museum of Western Virginia. September 1995- January 1996. Newport News: Peninsula Fine Arts Center. January- May 1996.

“Five Years of Collecting.” Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. 25 March -4 May 1980.

African Exhibition. Lynchburg, VA: Fine Arts Center. 29 April- 8 May 1979.

Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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