Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Bama, the Crocodile. Kirango, 1979. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


Fishermen's troupes perform masquerades representing animals like the crocodile, the hippo and the manatee, which they once regularly hunted. These masquerades often belong to specific families in the community, rather than to the youth association at large. During their performances, male, not female, singers perform. The songs are praise songs for renowned hunters and the praise list includes great hunters from the ancestral line of the family that owns the masquerade. Other masquerades that distinguish fishermen's performances from those of the farmers are the water turtle and a variety of large river fish. Female singers accompany these masquerades as well as the large fishing birds, the hyena, wild cats and antelopes.