This Bamana (Mali) headdress came into the Conservation Laboratory as part of the Anthropology Department’s NEH CARES grant. It is a Chi Wara (or Twi Wara) headdress, and is modeled on the mythical heroic figure who was half antelope, half human and introduced agriculture to the Bamana. The headdresses are used by the Chi Wara initiation society during agricultural dances and rituals to encourage and celebrate successful farmers. Traditionally, the headdresses depict male and female antelopes, pangolin and/or aardvarks, and are secured to basketry hats. They were made in either horizontal, vertical or abstract forms - this one is done in the horizontal style.
This unusual headdress was likely made for the tourist trade, as it is highly decorated and is a male antelope with an additional, possibly baby, head above the adult male’s body. Usually only female headdresses show baby antelopes, which makes this one unique. The second head has broken off, but some virtual wizardry from our wonderful photographer, Rick Wicker, has allowed us to see what the headdress would look like when repaired.
Stephen E. Nash, PhD
Senior Curator of Archaeology and Director of Anthropology