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Chi Wara

Late 19th - early 20th century
Artist/maker unknown, Bamana

This element of a masquerade ensemble would have been worn on the performer’s head like a hat, while his body would be covered in raffia and cloth. Chi wara are so named for the powerful force identified by communities in southern Mali as the source of all life. Chi wara combine forms that are symbolic of the capabilities and traits associated with several animals, including the antelope and the pangolin.


Malian religious practices—including a genre of masquerade similar to chi wara—were first documented in the 1300s by the Moroccan cartographer and cultural anthropologist Ibn-Battuta. His observations, published in Arabic in 1355 and translated into French five hundred years later, continue to provide historians with valuable information about the longevity of cultural forms in Bamana-speaking communities.

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Object Details
Madame Gasté, Paris; sold to Rene d'Harnoncourt (1901-1968), 1932 [1]; by inheritance to his wife, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, New York (1903-2001); gift to Anne d'Harnoncourt and Joseph Rishel, Philadelphia; promised gift to PMA, 2002.1. According to a note on a collection list made by Rene d'Harnoncourt, c.1953-56. Anne d'Harnoncourt Personal Papers, PMA Library & Archives.

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