Bozo Hippo marionette head
First - The interesting story, the myth, that is "supposedly" behind the piece:

I would like to thank my friend Vero Martelliere from the African Arts and Culture discussion group for her kind assistance with the translation below.

La Tete d'Hippopotame   > The hippo head

Cette marionnette est agee de 92 ans.  > This puppet is 92 years old.

Elle est pleine d'histoire riche.  >  It is rich in history  (but I guess the person meant that it carries a quite interesting story).

Cette piece etait le symbole d'une pirogue sacree. > This piece / this puppet was the symbol [the prow ?] of a holy/sacred pirogue.

La meme pirogue etait  premiere des courses de pirogues chaque annee.  > For years, this pirogue had been winning the annual pirogue races.

Comment la piece a pu etre obtenue ? He probably means : > How did this piece come to us ? [or] So, what's the story ?

C 'est un "Bozo" du nom de Bana Tereta qui a lutte de 6h du matin jusqu'à 16h sous I'eau contre rHamatin"Ma". II remporta la victoire contre
I'Hamatin… L'animal fut transporte au jardin Zoologique de Bamako.

[It occurred that] a Bozo-man, named Bana Tereta, had been struggling under water against “Hamatin Ma” [a hippo] from 6 am to 16 pm… He won
the fight against the animal which was subsequently taken to the Bamako zoo.

Le piroguier a detache son symbole pour recompenser le pecheur mysterieux.

> In order to give the « mysterious fisher » a reward, the boatman removed the symbol [/prow] of his pirogue [and gave it to him].

C'est apres des annees que le collectionneur Solo Camara a paye la piece pour enrichir davantage son Musee.

> Years after, a collector, Solo Camara, acquired this piece to enrich his museum (sic).

Apres beaucoup d'interventions, Solo nous a cede la piece.

After many approaches, Solo eventually let us have this piece.

Et le dernier mot de Solo Camara etait qu'il prefere I'honneur de cette piece au Diamant.

His last word [when we left] was that [the honour of having] this piece was more precious than a diamond.

My thoughts...

Well, it is an interesting story and it is probably more of a "tall tale" than the actual truth in my opinion.
I just thought I would share the story because I personally found it entertaining.

The hippo head does have a metal rod attached to the underneath of it that would have been used to attach it to something. It is possible, I guess,
that the hippo head could have been used on the prow of a piroque (canoe). There are strings that operate the ears and make them move, the mouth
also opens and closes. The piece does have some age to it and it is an interesting object. I had never really seen anything like it before and liked the
fact that it was very unique and I couldn't pass it up.

My hippo head was definitely not intended to be a mask, in my opinion. The rod attached to the lower jaw is curved like a hook on the bottom and was
either meant to be attached to something, like hooked in a hole in a piece of wood to support it, or held on to underneath a costume of some sorts and
operated as a marionette. The rod is attached to the inside of the head and if you hold it and hold on to the head you can open and close the mouth
as well as pull the strings that are attached to the ears to make them move.
Directly below is a photograph of a "Hippo mask" from Guinea-Bissau, along with a couple of other animal masks from the same culture.
I just put these on this page for reference purposes.
Hippo mask (Egomore)
Bidojo/Bidjogo peoples, Ilha de Nago, Bissagos (Bijagos) Islands, Guinea-Bissau
Wood, fiber, leather, animal hair, metal nails, glass eyes, pigment
Height - 25.5cm (10 1/16 inches)

From the exhibition: "In the Presence of Spirits" - National Museum of African Art

The extremely heavy hippo mask disappeared from the Bissagos Islands during the 1970s, probably because it is labor
intensive to make and perhaps because the boys complained about carrying the weight. This mask type originated in
the northernmost islands, Ponta and Maïo, which amphibious mammals once reached from the mouth of the River
Geba on the mainland nearby.  The mask is painted red in reference to the color of the hippo's glandular secretions.
Animal hair was fastened around the ears, eye sockets and the articulated muzzle. Frosted glass brought the gaze of
the mask to life. The enormous bulk of the mask forced its wearer to use two wooden crutches with flaring ends that
suggest hooves.
My hippo head also has some similar carving qualities found in the Bidjogo Vaca Bruto (bull) masks further supporting
my thoughts that my hippo head is likely from the Bidjogo peoples.
Bidjogo peoples, Caduna, Ilha de Uno, Bissagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau
Wood, horns, fiber cord, pigment, glass eyes
Height 46 cm (19 1/8 inches)

The most spectacular Bidjogo mask is a helmet mask called Vaca Bruto (meaning "wild cattle"). The largest examples are found on the islands of Uno
and Formosa. The dancer gives the object its most realistic presence by bowing and facing the ground. Its eyes of frosted glass, real horns, leather ears
and the rope through the nostrils are all animated by the bucking of the boy. These features convey the illusion of a real untamed animal. This
corresponds to the idea of a man in full possession of his physical strength but still immature in his behavior because he has not yet undergone all the
initiation trials.

A young man in the cabaro stage of maturity, which lasts for some 10 years, wears the heaviest costumes. Elements of these costumes include back
ornaments, belts, bells, arm guards and heavy, painted masks carved from wood. These objects show that he is still only a brutal beast. He has the right
to be stylish and even whimsical. In the full bloom of youth and without regular work, he enjoys the best time of his life. He has romances with women and
travels throughout the islands as his responsibilities increase with age.

From the exhibition: "In the Presence of Spirits" - National Museum of African Art
Sotheby's - Nov 16, 2001
A Bidjogo shark mask
in the form of a shark's head, the broad mouth carved on the underside with jagged teeth and a fiber fringe attached, the circular eyes incised on either
side with chevron-shaped gills framing a broad, domed crown; light brown patina with black and white pigment.
length 12 3/4 in. (32.4cm.)

James Willis Gallery, San Francisco

Cf. Societe des Expositions (1988: 137, number 35) for a closely related example.
Another possible attribution of my hippo head was presented to me by my friend Vero who did the translation of the story at the
beginning of the page. She sent me the scanned photo below showing a hippo mask that is Ijo.

She states -
"Upon further reflection, this hippo-mask could also be an IJO (/ Ijaw). Ijo used such horizontal helmet-masks to represent
water-spirits. As far as I know, the Ijo do not have statues or masks with hinged-jaws - but it is very common among their eastern
"Handbuch der afrikanischen Kunst" (Manual of African Art) - by Ulrich Klever, Ed. Bruckmann, Munich 1975.

The hippo shown on the book is small (only 30 cm).Still, the Ijo horizontal helmet-mask can be very large.
The photos below aren't that great, I'm waiting to take new photos until I can get a good mount made to display it properly.
30" long x 13" wide

Mouth and ears move. There are metal plates on parts of the head and some sort of animal hair attached around the
ears, eyes and nose. It has a metal rod attached to the underneath that would have been used to hold it or attach it to

Click on any image to see full size version
The example above is from Galerie Albert Loeb in Paris.

It's the only example like mine that I've been able to find.