Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Malikònò, the Bird of Mali. Segou region, Mali, 1979. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


Malikònò is a popular character that was created in the 1960s and is performed today in many communities in the western area of the Segou region. This version of Malikònò was carved by Siriman Fane, one of Segou's most celebrated puppet sculptors, who worked as a sculptor between 1925 until his death in the mid 1980s.   Mr. Fane based his bird puppet head on the older Stork character, a favorite in fishing communities for well over a century. This masquerade does not celebrate fishing as an occupation, nor does it allude to any single ethnic group. Malikònò celebrates Mali's independence from French colonial rule in 1960. The triumphant stork that catches and swallows its prey is the symbol of the triumph of nationalism and the creation of an independent Malian nation.