Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Performance, Kirango, Mali, 1992. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi. 

The audience is seated in a circle around the periphery of a clearing and the masquerades perform in the center of this clearing. The singers are seated in the circle, while the drummers move with the masquerades inside the circle. Every masquerade is accompanied by male attendants, who shout directions to the masquerader and rearrange its costume as needed. For example, when the large puppet masquerades perform in the late afternoon, young male attendants encircle the masquerade, moving with it and holding up a wall of mats to hide the masquerader's feet from public view. Every masquerade performs individually for between 10 and 15 minutes. When the masquerade exits another is brought into the center of the circle to perform. 


Mali; Marka peoples. Puppet masquerade at Kirango. Video by Mary Jo Arnoldi.