Fine Ciwara Headdresses
P R O V E N A N C E: old private collection
Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses
left: 112 x 36 x 9 cm.; right: 105 x 33 x 78 cm.
Bambara, Sègou region. Mali
Fine Ciwara Headdresses, the right modeled as a standing female antelope oryx (sogo – ni) with her young on her back, each wearing metal nose and earrings with spherical crotals, applied metal panels and brass nails, the surface highlighted with incised geometric designs. The female carries a spry young male on her back, suggesting the fertile union of men and women and of earth, water, seeds, and sun.
The left modeled as male mask display a highly abstract body, incorporated a zigzag motif, which represents the sun’s course from east to west, and a head with two large horns, with a strongly pronounced sexual organ placed under the collar, in the open worked part of the socle. It takes the Hippotragus antelope (daje) for its model.
* A Chiwara (also Chi wara, Ci Wara, or Tyi Wara; Bambara: ciwara; French: tchiwara) is a ritual object representing an antelope, used by the Bambara ethnic group in Mali. The Chiwara initiation society uses Chiwara masks, as well as dances and rituals associated primarily with agriculture, to teach young Bamana men social values as well as agricultural techniques.
Chiwara masks are categorized in three ways: horizontal, vertical, or abstract. In addition, Chiwara can be either male or female. Female Chiwara masks are denoted by the presence of a baby antelope and straight horns. Male Chiwara masks have bent horns and a phallus. The sex of a Chiwara mask is much clearer on horizontal and vertical masks while abstract masks tend to be difficult to classify.
The appearance of the Chiwara form varies greatly both by region and time produced. Specific master wood carvers also subtly modified the accepted (or even religiously mandated) local forms, forming a distinct “signature” or “school” of Chiwara figures. These regional variations have been roughly assigned the stylistic categories above. Thus the Bougouni / Southern region style are an amalgam of several animal motifs combined in the same work, in an abstract style; the Bamako / Northern region style is usually of the horizontal style; the Segu/ Northern region style (the heartland of the Bambara Empire) matches the vertical style with the unique “cut out” triangular body motif of the males. Other regional styles have been proposed, including the Sikasso region style, with a thin, delicate, vertical form within almost human, snoutless face.