African puppets

Bamana marionette figures
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Bamana "Sigi Kun" - buffalo head

32" long (49" if you include the cloth from the mouth) x 18" wide x 14" deep

This object will be in the exhibition "
Collectors Collect - Works from Denver Private Collections" from October 9th 2006 to January 5th, 2007

"Twice a year, the Bozo, Somono, Marka and Bambara populations of Central West Mali perpetuate a long tradition of sogo (animal) mask dances,
sometimes accompanied by jiri maanin (little wooden people). The purpose of these festivals, called Sogo bo (animal outings) or Tyeko (the thing of men)
or Do bo (the manifestation of the mystery), is to enact original myths, legends, the cosmos and ancestors, as well as all the new things in the world. They
also depict the psychology of the human character. The youth in the villages are responsible for performing the masquerades based on the information
they learn from the elders.

The oldest Sogo bo characters are bush animals and they still enjoy a special place in the theater. During any performance it is not uncommon to see
masquerades representing lions, bush buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, wild cats, antelopes, and powerful bush spirits. In these communities the
bush is defined as the domain of men and it is the locus of power. The interpretation of the theater's bush animal characters are informed by beliefs and
values associated with hunting and with hunters as men of action and society's heros. It is the world of the hunter and the association of hunting with
heroic behavior that young men in the youth association, the owners of the masquerades, choose to identify with, and to celebrate through the
performance of these bush animal masquerades.

The repertoire that a troupe plays in any year underscores a fundamental principle of youth theater which gives a positive value to innovation and
change. The dramatic content of the youth theater is concerned with exploring the interplay between unity and rivalry, between the elders and youth,
between the collective and the individual, and between tradition and change. Each season a troupe will choose to play many of the same characters
popularized by their fathers and grandfathers before them. But each new generation of young men is also charged to create new characters to rival those
of their elders. While the community invests a high value in unity through the maintenance of tradition, it also recognizes that creative rivalry energizes
these performances, in the same way that people understand the necessity for innovation and change in order to move the society forward.

Troupes creatively exploit the full spectrum of arts—puppet masquerades, dances, drumming, and songs—to construct the dramatic characters in the
fictional world of Sogo bo. These performances are important sites for the exploration of the moral universe. Like folktales and other theatrical forms,
these masquerade performances throw cultural values and social relationships into high relief and open them up for public scrutiny. Even though they are
defined as entertainment, young men and women proceed with a seriousness of purpose, often mediated by wit and humor, to examine the nature of their
world and their lived experiences. For generations, this theater has constituted one important public avenue through which young men and women have
gained access to knowledge, instruction, and experience by commenting upon the critical beliefs and values within their communities."
Mary Jo Arnoldi - Playing With Time - Art and Performance in Central Mali

Sigi Kun (Buffalo head) puppets were originally part of an individual masquerade character, and over time they have transformed to be the head of a
large super-structure that carried smaller rod puppets on it's back.

References: Playing With Time - Art and Performance in Central Mali
Another great reference book on African puppets and marionette figures
The image above is from the Albert Loeb Gallery in Paris.
The "Sigi Kun (Buffalo head) puppet pictured above was
featured in the Parcours des mondes 2006 catalog for this
The figures shown above with guns and bowls are operated by strings and the guns and bowls move.
Another example for
reference purposes.
Example above is from the Galerie Albert Loeb (Paris) website.
CLICK HERE to go to their website to see their puppet collection.
The puppets are large and I don't always get to display them in the house. Above are a few that I had out and took a photo of.
A new version of Sigi, the Buffalo, appeared in the 1992 Bamana Sogo bo. Out of its back appeared several
small puppets, including a balafon musician, a drummer, and Yayoroba, the Beautiful Woman.
1992. Photograph by Mary Jo Arnoldi.
My old photo method
My new photo method, still not perfect, but it's a big
Photo above was taken at the opening reception of "Collectors Collect - Works from Denver Private Collections"