Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Sigi, the Bush Buffalo. Segou region, 1987. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


The most popular sculptures used in the contemporary theater are large carved wooden rod puppet heads, the majority of which represent wild or domesticated animals.  A rod is slipped into a cavity carved on the backside of the head. The puppeteer, hidden within the costume, manipulates this rod, raising and lowering the animal head, twirling it around, and opening and closing its mouth, or wiggling its ears.