|Bozo KIWARANI mask
Mali, Bozo, Kita region
Wood, shells, mirror, seeds, beads
H. 73 cm.
Dakar-Djibouti expedition 1931-1933
The mask in the photo above is in the Musee de I'Homme
IN the journal of the Dakar-Djibouti expedition, published in 1934 under the title I'Afrique Fantome, Michel Leiris stated that this mask and
two others were bought at a dance organized by the colonial administration for the celebration of Bastille Day on July 14, 1931. "Men
wearing antelope masks having five horns and six mirrored eyes danced with others who were entirely costumed and whose hoods had a
long tuft of porcupine quills in place of a nose."
Leiris was told that this type of mask was invented by a blacksmith (noumou) named Tamba who lived in the village of Kolena. According to
a tradition relating to the Emperor Soundyata Keyta, this mask would first have been carved in the image of a woman, who then changed
herself into an antelope, and then into a porcupine. Elsewhere, Leiris was told that these Malinke masks, like Bamana antelope crests,
were linked to agricultural rites and were worn to encourage farmers in their work.
To our knowledge, the Musee de I'Homme is the only museum that owns masks such as these from the eastern border of Mali, a region
from which very few sculptures are known. This scarcity is explained by the almost total Islamization of the region at the end of the
The users of these masks never mentioned their functions to the expedition members, except for a vague entertainment purpose. If the
masking societies still existed in 1931, their activity was kept secret. The sophistication and richness of the colored decoration leads one to
think that the blacksmith-sculptor who made them worked for a society that was still very active and which took care to call upon a
renowned sculptor. In spite of Leiris' efforts, he never succeeded in meeting Tamba.
Source: Masterpieces from the Musee de l'Homme
|Rand African Art