Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Pari, Credit Association. Segou region, Mali, 1979. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


The Pari masquerade is a more recent creation and has a rather limited distribution within the Segou region. The masquerade depicts a roan antelope with a small female puppet attached to the animal head.  However, the masquerade celebrates not the roan antelope, but the institution of Pari, which is a small-scale revolving credit association generally organized by and among women in the area.  Each woman puts a small amount of money in the association coffers at designated intervals. On a rotating basis, one of the members can draw upon the accumulated capital as venture capital to invest in goods such as textiles, beads, cosmetics, or foodstuffs that she will then sell at the local markets. The Pari masquerade celebrates and praises the business savvy of women in the community.