Thursday, 17 September 2009

Weavers in African Sculpture

Bamana puppet of a weaver.

The Sogo bo (literally "the animals come out") puppet theatre tradition of the Bamana people of Mali embraces a huge range of characters and performance styles, from larger than life animal masquerades animated by several men, to small string puppets. Inspired by a visit I made to a puppet festival in Markala, Mali last year I asked if there were any puppet depictions of weavers. Recently I received these two charming sculptures which now decorate my shop.

Another puppet by the same sculptor.

Both these puppets are the work of a man known as Dina Ballo from the village of Zambougou, whose is said to be the only Sogo bo sculptor who makes weavers. Sculptural depictions of weavers are surprisingly rare despite the activity being an everyday sight in many parts of West Africa. Looking through my library I found only two further examples, shown below.

An asen is an ancestral altar from southern part of the Benin Republic. This image is taken from the recent and excellent book Asen, Ancestors, and Vodun by Edna G. Bay (University of Illinois Press, 2008)

This remarkable ifa divination bowl (Yoruba, Nigeria) from the Ethnography Museum, Berlin, depicts a woman weaver on the upright single heddle loom (Photo from Brigitte Menzel, Textilien Aus Westafrika, Museum fur Volkerkunde, 1972)

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