The Bamana people honor Ciwara as the spirit who taught their ancestors how to till the earth and grow crops. At traditional planting and harvest festivals, champion farmers are chosen to dance in honor of Ciwara. The Bamana Crest Masks represent male and female antelopes to symbolize the procreative forces of nature and the marital cooperation necessary for successful farming. They are attached to woven caps by which they can be secured to the heads of the dancers, whose bodies are covered with long, thick raffia costumes that signify rain. While the costumed men leap in imitation of an antelope, women dance alongside them, singing praises to the ideal farmer, who exhibits the grace, strength, and endurance of an antelope. Two long sticks held by each dancer represent the rays of the sun.
The abstraction and decorative patterning of the sculptures emphasize the antelope’s essential qualities: a narrow head, gracefully arching neck, and long horns. The zigzag design of the male’s neck and mane represents the path of a running antelope; the tall horns suggest waving stalks of grain. Combined with the features of an antelope on each headdress are the squat lower body and legs of the aardvark, a type of anteater that burrows in the soil as farmers do when they cultivate the earth. In addition, human characteristics are incorporated into the portrayal of the female antelope, who wears earrings and a nose-ring and imitates human mothers in the way she carries her baby on her back.
tags: function, symbolism, animals, community, celebration, ceremony
Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)