Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Behind the scenes, Kirango, 1979. A young man preparing Dage, the Roan Antelope, for its performance. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


Several weeks before the festival, the association meets to decide what characters will be played in the coming festival. They bring out the masks and puppets from storage and repaint and repair them. Young men cajole their mothers, sisters, and women friends into lending them textiles to create the colorful masquerade costumes. A few days before the festival teams of young men begin to prepare the masquerades. These teams work in secret and the work areas are considered off limits to women, children, and strangers.