Headcrest, Chi Wara



Headcrest, Chi Wara


Ceremonial costume, effigy, mask


20th Century


West Africa, Mali
Bamana, Beledougou region


Wood, string, hair, fibers, bronze
22 5/8 x 10 1/16 x 3 9/16 in. (57.5 x 25.5 x 9 cm)

Object Number



This headdress, worn by a masked performer with a fiber veil that covers the face, depicts a roan antelope (chiwara, or "farming animal") atop an aardvark. It is the male half of a male-female pair of headdresses that originates in the Beledougou region north of the River Niger in Mali. The combination of two animals, antelope above and aardvark below, is said to reflect the growth cycle of the Bamana groundnut (Voandzeia subterranea), the region's staple crop.

Like the peanut, which it closely resembles, the groundnut's leaves appear in the sun above ground but its fruit grows in the subterranean darkness of the soil below. In like fashion, the roan antelope is identified with the sun and also with farming through the myth that the antelope taught humans how to till the soil. The aardvark is a nocturnal animal famous as a digger and represents the abilities of the best groundnut farmers. This two-stage horticultural symbolism extends to the growth of children, since children in this region begin life with their father's kin but after learning to walk, spend the rest of childhood with the mother's family. Therefore the mask appears at both puberty celebrations and at harvest events to encourage contestants in digging competitions.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


The Art of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Michael C. Carlos Museum, November 8, 1997 - January 4, 1998|
MCCM Permanent Collection Gallery, 2008 - December 1, 2014


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Michael McKelvey.
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On View



“Headcrest, Chi Wara,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed February 22, 2020, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7992.

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