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Bamana Crest Masks: Culture, Creation, and Choreography (lesson plan)


In this multi-day lesson, students will study the function and use of Tji Wara crest masks of the Bamana people of Africa. Using the masks as an example, students will develop a cultural study of their personal talents to create their own crest masks. Students will then choreograph a dance to go with their mask.

Created by A+ Schools of NC

Grade Levels
7th Grade
Subject Areas
Dance, Social Studies, Visual Arts
Dance, Function, Ritual
NC Standards Correlations
Social Studies
Visual Arts
7.V.3, 7.CX.1
7.CP.1, 7.C.1

Artwork Related to this Lesson

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students will better understand the function and use of crest masks by the Tji Wara of the Bamana people of Africa.
  2. Students will imagine and create their own crest masks.
  3. Students will imagine and create their own dance to accompany their crest masks.
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1. Warm-up:

Show pictures and discuss mythical beasts that the students might already know such as: centaur, unicorn, griffin, manticore, pegasus and sphinx. Talk about the culture and time period when these beasts were created, and why the culture might “need” to believe in them.

2. Examine the headdresses using critical thinking skills.

Ask students to look closely at the crest masks of the Tji Wara of the Bamana people of Africa.

Lead the students through the following questions, having them respond verbally, through journaling, or both.

  • What do you notice? How would you describe what you see?
  • What are these made of? Why do you think that?
  • How do you think these were constructed? What makes you say that?
  • What shapes do you notice? Can you point to them?
  • What patterns and relationships can you identify in the works of art?
  • What might they be about? Where in the structure and design of the masks do you see evidence of your idea(s)?
  • Do you think that they represent anything? If so, what? Be specific about which parts of the mask reflect your idea.
  • Could they be a metaphor for something? What might that metaphor be?

3. Bring headdresses into context.

Visit Crest Masks (ciwaraw kun) on NCMALearn and share the information listed about the works of art. 

Have the students look again at the photo of the masks with this information in mind. 


  • Does this information affect how you look at these masks?  Now what do you see?
  • Where in the masks do you see indications of the information we just read?

Go to the following link and share with your students these historical photos of similar masks used in context.

Show your students the following video of Bamana Crest Masks in action. (You might want to cue it up to the 5 minute, 30 second mark, as that part of the ceremony gets much more active and includes the women of the village.)

Remind your students that in practice the masks are worn by those farmers of the village deemed the best in the area. It is an honor to wear the Tji Wara masks and participate in the ceremony.

4. Have students consider what they do well.

Stress to students the fact that to the Bamana people being a good farmer is very important for the survival not only of the individual, but also to the community.

Ask students:

  • In our community here at school, your community at home, in your neighborhood, or faith community, what do you do well that is important to your community?
  • Are you a helper to anyone? If so, how?
  • Do you have responsibilities? What are they?
  • Do you have a skill that is helpful? (Do you write for other people? Do you run errands for others? Do you help clean up or set up? Are you strong so you help others move things? Are you tall so you help reach things for others? Are you a good cook who also shares their cooking?…)

Have students answer by journaling, drawing pictures, partner sharing or answering verbally.

5. Students consider and create a mythical being that could help them do what they do well.

Remind students that the Bamana people chose to make their headdresses in the image of a mythical creature, a combination antelope/aardvark. They made this choice because both animals dig in the ground (like farmers) and also because it is their belief that this animal taught their people how to farm.

Ask students to consider animals that might help them do what they do well.

  • Can you think of an animal that has qualities that might help you do what you do even better? (as strong as an ox, as fast as a hare, as brave as a bear, as quiet as a mouse, as stealthy as a tiger…)

Have students write down animals and the qualities the animals have that might help them do what they do well.

6. Students create their own crest mask/headdress out of cardboard.

Re-examine the image of the NCMA crest masks. Look again at how the crest masks show both the animal and the qualities of the animal (e.g. the zig-zag patterns show how antelope move).

Tell students: You will be creating a crest mask representing the mythical animal/creature that can help you do what you do well. You will be creating it to wear.

  • Step 1: On a sheet of paper, sketch out what your mask will look like. Remember that it will mostly be seen from the side, so think of it as a profile of the helping animal. Include design elements (shape, line, patterns, space) that symbolize the qualities of the helpful animal.
  • Step 2: Fold an 11” x 17” piece of cardboard in half.
  • Step 3: Transfer your sketch to both parts of the piece of cardboard, remembering to include at the fold a base for the crest mask, which will be attached to your head. Also remember that both parts of the cardboard above the fold must have the same outline transferred.
  • Step 4: Using a mat knife, cut out your design on both halves of the folded cardboard. Remember to leave the animal attached to the base.  
  • Step 5: Flatten out the base (which will be attached to your head when worn) and using hot glue, attach the top edges together so that the animal shape is one piece (it ends up looking like a triangle with the base at the bottom and the attached edges at the top angle).
  • Step 6: Using a strip of cloth, attach the crest mask to the top of your head by looping the cloth through the base of the mask and around your chin.

7. Students choose movements for their mythical being and using those movements choreograph their own dance to represent their mask.  

Have students:

  • Make a list of words that describe how their mythical being moves.
  • Choose four of the descriptive words from the list.
  • Use those words to create a sequence of movements that can be repeated over and over. Stress that the movements should use the head/neck, arms/hands, body and legs/feet. (You might want to refer back to the video and how the movements are simple and repetitive while wearing the masks.)

Have students, as a group, create a rhythm/beat with their hands or on drums/percussion instruments. While one group wears their masks and dances their choreographed movement sequence, another group provides the rhythm for the dance.  Videotape the students dancing their Dance of What We Do Well.

8. Closing

Share with the students the video of their work. Compare/contrast it with the video of the Bamana people doing their dance.


Written by A+ Fellow Jef Lambdin


  1. Ask the students to write about the parallel of what the Bamana people deem important and what our society deems important.
  2. Watch students as they create their crest masks.
  3. Examine the masks created by the students for elements of design as described in Step #6.
  4. Have students compare their movements to those seen in the video of the Bamana people.
  5. While students are sharing their work, ask other students what they see.


Lesson Resources

This is a multi-day lesson that should be scaffolded according to the abilities of your students.

Teacher may want to spend time on animal idioms when working through animal characteristics that would be helpful for the students.

Supplies needed:

Smartboard/projector & computer

Writing paper or journal for each student

Plain white paper on which to sketch the mask idea for each student

11” x 17” pieces of cardboard – 1 per student (extras for mistakes)

2”- 3” Strips of cloth, approximately 30 inches long – 1 per student

Mat knives and hot glue guns (and glue)

Drums/Percussion instruments                                                                                                       

Camera for videotaping

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