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George Chemeche



INTRODUCTION George Chemeche, Artist, Author and Curator of Tribal Art


EQUESTRIAN FIGURES IN YORUBA ART John Pemberton III, Professor Emeritus of Religion and African Studies, Amherst College


HEROIC RIDERS AND DIVINE HORSES An analysis of ancient Soninke and Dogon equestrian figures from the Inland Niger Delta region in Mali Bernard de Grunne, Tribal Art Expert, Artcurial (Paris)


THE IMAGE OF THE HORSE AND RIDER IN SENUFO ART Kate Ezra, Nolen Curator of Academic Affairs, Yale University Art Gallery


THE ARTISTRY OF THE SOGOBĂ’ MASQUERADE IN MALI Mary Jo Arnoldi, Curator of African Ethnology and Art, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution



41 233 301 339 347 365

Wood Metals Terra Cotta Stone Ivory Beads







Mary Jo Arnoldi Curator of African Ethnology and Art, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Fig. 1: Horse with Rider (So) Segou, Mali Cloth structure of a horse with a small puppet (mannin) on the back Masquerade of the Bozo/Sonomo performed at the Festival sur le Niger Photo: Elizabeth den Otter, 2006


The Sogobò (literally, the animals come out) is a puppet masquerade that is performed in south central Mali, primarily in the Segou region and southwards along the Niger River. The performances are public events that are organized under the auspices of local village youth associations. In creating these annual performances, troupes not only draw upon the long history of the regional masquerade, but actively pursue the creation of new themes and characters that respond to contemporary life. It is this dynamic intersection between the past and present that gives this art form its immediacy and that allows the Sogobò to continue to be an important and popular artistic context today.1 Sogobò, which has its origins in the pre-colonial era, has been performed for at least a century by four ethnic groups: the Boso and Sòmonò, who are fishermen, and the Bamana and Maraka, who are farmers and traders. According to most oral traditions, fishermen – and more specifically the Boso – are identified as the original owners of the masquerade.2 The masquerade first spread to other fishing communities along their riverine networks. Later, farmers living within the Segou region also adopted the masquerade. By the late nineteenth century, both fishing and farming communities within the Segou region were performing the theater. During the opening decades of the twentieth century, sculptural forms and dramatic innovations were passing among all groups and in every direction within this zone.3 Mapping the distribution of the masquerade reads as a complex network of inter-village relationships in and through time. Clusters of communities, which are related through networks of balima siraw, kin roads, or furu siraw, marriage roads, often adopted the masquerade during the same historical time period. Related villages often perform a similar repertory and sometimes even lend one another masks and puppets. Since independence in 1960 the Malian government has taken a keen interest in promoting the puppet masquerade as a part of the nation’s cultural heritage and this official recognition has encouraged many local communities to maintain their masquerades.4 In 1997 the town of Markala organized the FESMAMA, Le Festival des Marionettes et Masques de Markala, an annual performance competition that features regional puppet masquerade troupes. In 2005, the city of Segou instituted Le Festival sur le Niger, a celebration of the arts and cultures of the Segou region, which includes puppet masquerade performances. The audiences for these different festivals not only includes Malians, but they also draw increasing numbers of international visitors. The masquerade theater involves the active participation of three principal groups: blacksmiths, young men, and women. Blacksmiths, who are professional sculptors, have supplied local theaters with the carved wooden masks and rod puppets since the pre-colonial era. While the smiths carve the wooden puppets and masks, young men in the youth association are the “owners” of the puppet masquerades and are the theater’s active promoters, masqueraders, and musicians. Women, who are the singers for the event, play a central role in the performance as the songs function as the masquerades’ voices. In most rural communities, the timing of the theater still closely follows the annual agricultural and fishing cycle of the region. The performances usually take place in either one or the other transitional periods between the dry and rainy seasons. Some communities perform the puppets at the beginning of the dry season in late October or early November, a period that marks the beginning of the harvest and the peak fishing season. Others perform the puppets in late May or June at the start of the rainy season, a time that signals the new planting season.5 35

Lidded Vessel Dogon, Mali 16th-20th century Wood, h. 333/4 in, 85.7 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection Gift of Nelson E. Rockefeller, 1963



Epa Helmet Mask Bamgboye of Odo-Owa Yoruba, Nigeria circa 1925 Wood, pigment, h. 54 in, 137.2 cm Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland John L. Severance Fund and gift of Mary Grant Price 1991.165 Epa Headdress Attributed to Bamgboye of Odo-Owa Ekiti, Yoruba, Nigeria Polychrome wood, h. 55 in, 139.7 cm Newark Museum, Newark 85.49




Previous pages Divination Cup (agere ifa) South Egba, Yoruba, Nigeria Wood, h. 81/2 in, 21.6 cm Photo: Austin Kennedy Private collection Divination Cup (agere ifa) Yoruba, Nigeria Wood, h. 97/8 in, 25.1 cm Photo: Ferry Herrebrugh Private collection

Divination Cup (agere ifa) Yoruba, Nigeria Wood, pigment, h. 11 in, 27.9 cm MusĂŠe du quai Branly, Paris 71.1891.22.7 Divination Cup (agere ifa) Yoruba, Nigeria Early-mid 20th century Wood, pigment, h. 85/8 in, 21.9 cm Photo: Franko Khoury National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Kuhn 92-10-1


Amulet Ethiopia Triplet carved from wood, painted; h. 2 in, 5.1 cm; w. 4 in, 10.2 cm; d. 1 in, 2.5 cm The Trustees of the British Museum, London Ethiopian Orthodox Icon Ethiopia, c.1750-1855 Distemper, gesso and cloth on wood; h. 123/16 in, 31 cm; w. 165/16 in, 41.4 cm; d. 9/16 in, 1.4 cm Photo: Franko Khoury National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Gift of Ciro R. Taddeo in memory of Dr. Volker Stitz, Ph.D. 98-3-1




Equestrian Figure Kulango, Ivory Coast Bronze, h. 13/4 in, 4.4 cm Photo: Pauline Shapiro Arnold & Joanne Syrop

Ritual Staff Kulango, Ivory Coast Bronze, h. 21/2 in, 6.4 cm Photo: Austin Kennedy Drs. Nicole & John Dintenfass


Equestrian Figure Inland Niger Delta, Mali 420-650 years old (TL text Oxford Laboratory no. 481U9) Terra cotta, h. 161/4 in, 41.3 cm Photo: courtesy of Bernard de Grunne Private collection 318

Equestrian Figure Djenne, Mali Terra cotta, h. 23 in, 58.4 cm Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York The Joffe Foundation, Cincinnati 319


ISBN 978-1-85149-634-1


781851 496341


Horse Rider in African Art  

This visually stunning book presents a wealth of African art depicting the horse and its rider in a variety of guises, from Epa masks and Yo...

Horse Rider in African Art  

This visually stunning book presents a wealth of African art depicting the horse and its rider in a variety of guises, from Epa masks and Yo...