Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

by Mary Jo Arnoldi
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Sine, the Gazelle. Segou Region, Mali, 1979. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


The theater's masks and puppets are the property of each local youth association.  The association includes young men between the ages of 14 and 40 and young women between the ages of 12 and 18. Men in the youth association are the dancers, drummers and the masqueraders and women are dancers and singers for these events. The association festivals are public events to which everyone in the community and even strangers are invited.

Contemporary troupes perform upwards of thirty different masquerade characters during the festival. The festival begins in late afternoon with youth association dances, which are followed by masquerade performances that continue well past midnight.