Chi Wara Headdress
Materials: Wood, metal, fabric
This wooden African headdress was made by the Bamana people from Mali. It is 43.25″ tall, 12.25″ long, and 2.75″ wide. The headdress represents a stylized antelope with elongated curved horns and open mane. Red cloth and metal trim are attached to the face, and a dark brown patina covers the surface. There are four holes on the base of the headdress used for attaching the headdress to a raffia covered basket and the head of the wearer.
The word chi wara translates to “farming beast” and is an extension of the Bamana deity associated with creation. For the Bamana (also known as the Bambara) who live in the dry savanna of west central Mali, farming is held in high esteem as the noblest profession. Tyi wara, or chi wara (also tyi ouara) is a dance for a supernatural being that is half man and half antelope. Tyi wara is the one who taught Bamana people about agriculture. Tyi wara was the son of the first woman and tilled the soil even as a baby, transforming weeds into millet and corn. He helped man to be prosperous farmers, but man became wasteful and careless in their farming. So, Tyi wara left them and buried himself in the ground. The Bamana are agrarian, and they are dependent on the success of their harvest. Now the headdresses are worn to call on Tyi wara’s aid for a successful harvest, and the name chi wara has come to be associated with an exceptional farmer.
The headdresses are worn during performances that depict male and female antelopes that symbolize the relationship between man and woman and between the earth and the sun. Art in Africa consists primarily of wood sculpture, with the majority being less than 200 years old since wood deteriorates easily from exposure or destruction. The chi wara sculpture is a zoomorphic headdress made of wood carved into a stylized antelope whose head and horns are exaggerated while the body is minimalized. It is also comprised of metal and segments of cloth. The unique chi wara headdress comes in variations depending on time and place created. Masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies when there is need of water for the crops to grow.
References to the Bamana are seen as early as the 18th century, and Bamana is identified as an ethno-linguistic group of the Mande people of Mali. Islam has encroached on the traditional religions in many areas of Africa, but the chi wara headdresses are still in use today. Bamana age-based fraternities, called tons, structure much of community life. Overall, this Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali provides insight into an interesting cultural tradition and a fascinating group of people.
Take a look at this video to see a Chi Wara dance:
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