Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

MaliBamana peoples


Wood, brass, cloth

H. 146.7 cm (57 3/4")

Indiana University Art Museum, 77.87

This example of the Yan Ka Di puppet was carved in the Shianro region around the 1930s and was collected by F.H. Lem in Siela in 1934-1935. This body puppet features the head and torso of a Janus-faced woman with two smaller Janus faced heads branching out from the main head, and four smaller heads finishing off the sculpture.   Over the years, this particular sculpture has been variously interpreted as a generic representation of a beautiful woman, or because of its multiple heads, a graphic representation of an ancestral line. However, interviews with elder blacksmiths in Siela and throughout Shianro in 1979 along with the Yan Ka Di song suggest a wholly different interpretation. According to the Shianro blacksmiths, Yan Ka Di is a marvelous genie (evident from her multiple heads).