Puppet Masquerades in the Valley of the Niger

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

Gòn, the Baboon. Kirango, 1979. Photo by Mary Jo Arnoldi.


A variety of face, helmet, and crest masks representing animals, human beings and spirits, are regularly performed in the theater. In Kirango, Gòn, the Baboon, is an old character and its name first appears in the theatrical histories in the late nineteenth century. Gòn opens the afternoon segment of the festival and symbolizes youth, wildness, impulsiveness, and impropriety. The masker's lack of social decorum and control stands in sharp contrast to elders and the values and behaviors associated with the conduct of proper social life within the community.