African Art – Representing the Spirit of Chi Wara

This antelope head dress represents the spirit of Chi Wara. It was worn by young men during ceremonies to bring in the harvest. Chi Wara is a spirit who introduced the knowledge of agriculture to the Bambara.

This head dress is described as a ritual object. Dances are performed by young men in pairs during the time of planting, are to ensure germination and a good harvest.

The Bambara are a Mandé ethnic group native to much of West Africa, primarily southern Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Today they make up the largest Mandé ethnic group in Mali, with 80% of the population speaking the Bambara language, regardless of ethnicity.

During my research I noticed that the term “Chi Wara” or chi wara is used to represent the physical ritual object and/or references the spirit who in the form of an antelope introduced agriculture to the Bambara people. In African Art by Frank Willett, the theme of a spirit occupying or living within a ritual object in some African cultures and ceremonies is reoccurring. Once the ritual or ceremony is completed the object is no longer occupied by the spirit. I stress that every African culture is different and this may not be the case for the Bambara people however I must take note on the use of the term. Chi Wara can also be spelled Tyiwara.


African Art by Frank Willett

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