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Agriculture and Artistry: The Bamana Chi Wara

The Bamana people attribute the introduction of agriculture to a mythical being called Chi Wara (Ci Wara,) described as a divine being with both mortal and animal attributes. As an agricultural society, the majority of Bamana are subsistence farmers. Ci Wara headdresses, carved to honor this mythical being, combine antelope features with those of significant animals like the aardvark and pangolin, symbolizing their importance to Bamana culture and farming life.
The headdresses represent Ci Wara's guidance in teaching humans to cultivate the land successfully. In response to human carelessness, Ci Wara is said to have buried himself, leading the Bamana to create bolis, power objects for his spirit, and headdresses to commemorate him. Ci Wara performances, featuring male and female headdresses worn by skilled dancers, serve as multifaceted metaphors for elemental forces crucial to humanity.

Photo by Eliot Elisofon

The performances encourage Bamana farmers in the fields and praise their efforts upon returning to the village. Symbolic elements, such as an infant on the female headdress representing humanity and the relationship between the powerful Sun and nurturing Earth, add depth to the metaphors. The raffia costumes, with undulating movements mimicking antelope and subtly referencing water, contribute to the overall metaphor of elemental forces.
Click here to shop our wonderful selection of hand-carved Bamana Chi Waras.