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.


Troupes from the eastern Segou area called Shianro were the first ones to use these rod puppet heads sometime in the late nineteenth century. In the oral history of this masquerade theater, Shianro is always called the sogojamani, the country of the masquerades. Blacksmiths from Shianro are credited for inventing the large wooden puppet heads and the smaller rod and string puppets. As these Shianro blacksmiths moved throughout the larger Segou region they introduced these puppet forms to different communities. Today, the rod puppets are popular all over the region and have become the signature form in the youth association masquerade theater.