By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Bamana peoples

Segouni Kun (little antelope heads) dance crest

Wood, metal, tacks

H. 47.6 cm (18 ¾”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.330

Chiwara performances at the end of men’s initiation celebrate individual strength and group solidarity. For Bamana, the earth is female, and cultivation an almost erotic penetration of the hoe into soil. The lowest figure here represents an aardvark, an animal with oddly “human” characteristics; known as a prodigious digger, the aardvark’s phallic snout reinforces men's “farming” abilities (see Zahan 1980, Imperato 1970). Men wear a piece of aardvark tail around their upper arms to bring the animal's strength to their cultivation. Timbá, the Bamana word for “aardvark,” refers to the sheet on which a woman is deflowered; the aardvark’s hunched back suggests sexual positions, as well as the tensed muscles necessary for hoeing. On this Chiwara, a female human figure stands above the aardvark, to stress these symbolic relationships. Chiwara dances dramatize young men's exuberant fertility, but through aardvark symbolism, some of the perplexities of growing up are exemplified as well.