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.


Masquerade armatures are constructed out of lashed wooden branches. Layers of grass skirting and colorful textiles are sewn over the armatures to create the finished costume. The morning of the festival, the association leadership makes the rounds of each work area to inspect each team's progress, to offer words of advice and encouragement. Once a masquerade is complete, it is tested for durability and adjustments are made as needed.