masquerades of the bozo, kirango (mali)


By Elisabeth den Otter

Kirango is an old village located on the bank of the Niger river, about 35 km north-east of the city of Ségou. The inhabitants are Bamanan (farmers) and Bozo/Somono (fishermen). Both ethnic groups celebrate their masquerades, each in its own way. For the Bozo/Somono circumcision is a very important ceremony, which takes place about every ten years. For that occasion, they organize a masquerade, with dances, masks, and ‘sogow’ (literally ‘animals’) that represent an animal, symbolic or domestic. They are accompanied by drumming and singing.


The afternoon of the circumcision, around 100 young boys of the Jaka quarter assemble next to the mosque, accompanied by the imam, elders of the leading Karabenta family, and male relatives. After the prayer they all go to the Karabenta dwellings, where they are blessed by the oldest family member. After that they go to the place where circumcision will take place. The next morning the circumcised boys go in procession to the mosque, accompanied by an elder of the Karabenta family, male family members, drummers, and women singing. They are dressed in a dark blue tunic and cap, covered with a white garment, and carry rattles made of calabash discs. Finally, they go to the Karabenta dwellings; after having visited the tomb of the elder, they are settled in the compound where they will stay for about ten days. The oldest Karabenta member attaches an amulet to the tunic of each boy.

Masquerade of the Bamanan

A few days later, the Bamanan participate in the ceremonies, with their dances, masks, drummers and singers (just like the Bozo/Somono participate in the Bamanan masquerade). The dances ‘Komofoli’ and ‘Ndomofoli’ are followed by the first mask: ‘Gonfarinman’ (the Nasty Chimpanzee), greeting the elders. After that ‘Ntilen’ (the Giraffe) and ‘Warabacaco’ (the Wild Animal), animals entirely made of cloth and manipulated from within by two men. 

Masquerade of the Bozo/Somono

The organization of the masquerade, which coincides with the circumcision ceremonies, is in the hands of the ‘ton’, the youth association. The animals represent mainly aquatic animals, and are made of a bamboo frame covered with cloth. A man with a hand bell guides the masks. At night, a number of them appear, such as the fish (‘Wulujege’ and ‘Saalen’), a pair of scorpions which represent twins (‘Bunteninw’), the crocodile (‘Bama’) and the snake (‘Sa’). They have no legs, and are manipulated by a man crawling on all fours; one might call it a ‘body puppet’. ‘Jinè’, the Genie, is a new puppet. ‘Bala’, the Porcupine and ‘Mari’, the Hippopotamus, are much appreciated by the public.

After a few days, the animals come out  in the afternoon. The circumcised boys arrive at the plaza to see ‘Kono’, the Bird, a cloth-covered frame to which a rod puppet in the shape of a bird’s head is attached; on his back, he carries two small birds made of cloth. This sogo is very important. He is followed by two Bush spirits (‘Wokuloninw’), hunters armed with bows and arrows, that can be seen only at night. Finally, everybody goes down to the river bank to witness the appearance of the Dog-fish (‘Wulujege’) and of the Crocodile (‘Bama’) swimming in the Niger river, animals which are feared and can only be captured by the strongest men.

Festival sur le Niger, Ségou

The members of the association of the Jaka quarter have performed at the Festival in 2005 and 2006, with much success. They started out on two boats, one carrying the Nasty Chimpanzee, the Bird, and the Horse, as well as the drummers, the other carrying the women lead singers and choir. Next to them, the Dog-fish and the Crocodile swam in the water. When they arrived at the shore, a number of animals performed on the beach: the Nasty Chimpanzee, the Scorpions, the Captain, the Porcupine, and the Snake. Many tourists saw this type of puppetry for the first time in their life, and took photo's and films.

Cultural tourism

A relatively new phenomenon is cultural tourism. In February 2006, a group of American tourists attended a ‘performance’ of members of the youth association of Konela and Thierola quarters. First, the tourists were taken in a boat, then attended a performance on land: the Mean Chimpanzee, the Horse with Rider, and two Bush Spirits. There was only one singer, no female choir and only a few women dancing. Even though the demonstration was organized by the youth organization, according to tradition, the question remains whether this type of manifestation is good for the culture involved. There was no traditional motive, the timing (between three and four in the afternoon) was unusual, and there was no public present, other than the group of tourists. This could in time deteriorate in a performance-on-command, where the groups are no longer in control of their own culture.  

The DVD ‘Fête de circoncision/fête des masques Bozo, Kirango (Mali)’ contains an introductory slideshow, a film of the circumcision ceremonies and masquerade (52 minutes), and  a film of the Bozo/Somono performance at the Festival sur le Niger in 2005 (15 minutes).



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