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Re: [African_Arts] Hip-Hippo-Hurray! I think I've located your lost hippo.

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  • Rand African Art
    I got a response from Elisabeth den Otter regarding the hippo marionette head and I wanted to share it with the group because it was interesting to me on many
    Message 1 of 3 , Jan 15, 2006
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      I got a response from Elisabeth den Otter regarding the hippo marionette head and I wanted to share it with the group because it was interesting to me on many levels.
      She is currently attending the "Festival on the Niger" in Mali, and is also doing some work there which she breifly explains below.

      I'm in Mali right now, preparing a Bozo performance during
      the Festival sur le Niger
      You can see photos of the festival here:
      The head in your photo looks like a hippo, but the (misspelled) name
      could be 'Lamantin' ('Ma' in Bamanan language). I've never
      seen anything like this, but from what I gather the Bozo
      culture is disappearing fast, due to problems around fishing.
      I'm trying to do some basic anthropological research in
      'my' village, Kirango, also about the effects of the Markala
      dam on fishing activities.

      Hope this information is of use to you,


      Elisabeth den Otter

      Rand African Art <rand@...> wrote:
      Thanks so much for your very insightful input, it’s always appreciated!
      It has been a fun, interesting and educational past few days for me trying to learn more about this object that isn’t a well known and published/documented type of object.
      A couple of nights ago I met up with a collector that contacted me and told me he was traveling through Denver and wanted to meet me. His interest in African art started in the late 50’s when he was young and he traveled through much of the Western coast of Africa in 1961 for 9 months and collected about 1200 objects on that trip. I told him about my hippo that I was starting to research and was unsure about. He was friends with Roy Seiber and he said that they would pull boxes of objects that weren’t identified out of the back room and play the “what is this and what culture is it from game”, so he said he could relate to the excitement about trying to identify objects like this. He was a very interesting person, and it was so great for me to sit down with someone else who was so passionate about African art and discuss it in person.
      Back to the hippo… Well, my initial thoughts of a Bidjogo attribution have slowly begun to fade as more of the signs have started to point to Mali , which is where I was told it originally came from.
      In the interesting story that accompanied my hippo head it does mention something about a Bozo man, and even though the story is highly suspect, I think that the one truth or clue in it is that mention of the Bozo man.
      I had originally started out looking at my books that contained images and information about Bamana and Bozo puppetry, but the hippo head didn’t fit in with the documented examples in any of my books on puppets from those cultures. All of the puppets photographed in my books were painted, even the ones that were photographed from the 50’s. A lot of the Bamaba and Bozo puppets were highly stylized and weren’t as realistic in appearance as my hippo head was.
      This is what made me start to move west to the Bidjojo people because there was mention of them making hippo masks as well as other amphibious creature masks which I have always found to be fascinating, especially the shark masks. The masks from these people were more realistic in appearance, and there were stylistic qualities in some of their masks that were similar to my hippo as Terry mentioned, even though I did not believe my hippo head was a “mask”. The problem with Bidjogo is that there isn’t really a mention of marionettes/puppets in their culture and I was pretty sure my hippo head was a marionette head.
      I then looked towards the Ijo per the recommendation of Vero but didn’t get very far because I don’t have the best reference books for this region. It was still a possibility, but the fact that I thought it was a marionette/puppet head made me go back up to Mali.
      Your references and links were great. I do now remember, I think, posting a long time ago the link to Elisabeth den Otter’s website on puppets when I first became interested in puppets from Africa . The image that you mention of a drawing of the large structure with people underneath operating the various puppets and the puppet head on the structure is exactly what I was thinking was a possible use for the hippo head.
      Craig also emailed me this morning explaining that he has a Bozo mask that has applied metal on it with similar “punch” style designs on it, so I think your gut feeling that the hippo head is Malian is most likely correct in my opinion and it is probably from the Bozo people. It just makes sense because the Bozo people have a tradition of puppetry and also the various mentions of the presence of hippopotamus in the masquerades. The images of hippos in the masquerades that I have seen are very different than mine because it shows a person in a cloth costume and the head of the hippo was also covered in cloth. This takes me back to the mention of the hippo head being used on the prow of a canoe in the story, and it is still a possibility that the Bozo fishermen that you mention that participated in the masquerades used this hippo head on the prow of the boat.
      There are various images that I have scanned, but I am having difficulties uploading them to my website so I can’t share them right now.
      Thanks to your references I have contacted Elizabeth den Otter and provided her with my thoughts and questions and images of the hippo head and asked her opinion. She is very passionate about the puppetry of Mali and has had a lot of field experience there and maybe she has seen something similar? I am also attempting to contact Mary Jo Arnoldi because she has also had a lot of field experience in the region and maybe she can provide some insight to the hippo head.
      Hopefully I will hear back from one of them, and if I do I will share the information with everyone. Thank you to everyone who has provided me with their thoughts on the hippo! Hopefully I will be able to provide a follow up soon.

      LRubinstein@... wrote:
      Interesting indeed...the discussion and the object.  And I have come across some data that point in ALL of the directions previously posited in seeking to identify the origins of the object in question although the serendipitous discovery of one particular article offers cogent evidence of a specific identification.  We'll come to that shortly.
      Some initial thoughts were prompted by the stamped metal plating that appears on the "snout" (below the eyes but above the nostrils) on the hippo head which Rand has posted.  I have seen this kind of stamped or embellished metalwork both on Bamana pieces (both masks and figures, generally speaking) as well as on one particular Baga standing figure in my own collection.  I will try to find or generate* images of examples (*i.e., to take pictures not to fabricate them).  In the interim, it is worth noting that the Baga figure to which I am referring also has animal hair or bristles similar to those which appear on the posted object.  However (or as well), such animal hair embellishments are also commonly found on Bamana Komo Masks...  For example:  http://www.randafricanart.com/Bamana_Komo_headdress_2.html
      So, my initial inclination was to look in the Manding cultural region spanning from Southwestern Mali Westward toward the Atlantic Coast for related examples.  However, one of my pending major research interests focuses upon a comparison of works from seemingly disparate regions for stylistic evidence of  interaction between peoples of the Western Guinea Coast and those of the River regions of Southeast Nigeria.  This is indeed relevant given a) the possibility that this "egomore" is anecdotally linked to river activities (i.e., boats); and b)  the fact that the Niger flows from Guinea to SE Nigeria!  (I look forward to sharing insights into -- and evidence of --  the historical interaction between peoples of these regions by both river and sea in the future.)  But let's look Westward again...
      It is worth noting that there is indeed significant interplay between Malian cultures (particularly Bambara/Bamana) and the cultures of the westernmost Guinea Coast as well -- both by river and by land.  (In fact, Manding peoples live throughout the regions encompassing Western Mali, Senegal, Guinea and the Gambia.)  With regard to the broad region, according to the web site for Mamadou Diabate***(master kora player from a centuries-old lineage of jelis), "The kora itself came to Mali from Gabu, the region centered between Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau..."  (Source:  www.mamadoukora.com).  In fact, culturally related Manding peoples live throughout the regions encompassing Western Mali, Senegal, Guinea and the Gambia (even in the Ivory Coast) and have historically existed within vast, conquering regional empires that precede the present era.
      But, back to the topic at hand, look at this map (http://www.maplandia.com/guinea-bissau/gabu/gabu/) to see where the Gabu Region is to see why the movement of the kora from Gabu into Mali is directly informative on this question:   The Gabu region in Guinea-Bissau is inland from the coastal area which faces the Bissagos Islands, home of the Bidjogo!  So, there are a lot of possible directions in which to journey in search of an identity for this "hippo head"  -- all of them intriguing and sure to illuminate (here I go again but...) the complex historical and cultural inter-relationships among African peoples which can be readily accessed -- if not easily answered -- through an appreciation and consideration of the material culture we seek to understand.
      So there are certainly reasons to consider the possible relation of "Rand's hippo head" to the Bidjogo animal masks -- as well as masks of the Ijo of SE Nigeria -- but...
      My gut feeling is that this hippo head is Malian Bamana-Bozo.  It should be noted, though, that the related Malinke -- who do indeed regularly apply metal to their masks -- reside in Mali, Guinea, Gambia and Senegal as well but...  Based on the information I have found, the example posted is perhaps one of the Sogow [plural of sogo:  mythical animal(s)] danced by the Bozo in the Bamana-Bozo masquerade which takes place before the rains in early June in the Kirango Quarter of Mali.  In her article , "Puppets and Masks of the Bamana and the Bozo (Mali),"  (link below) Elisabeth den Otter writes of this masquerade in Markala (near Segou):  "During the Bamana masquerade, the Bozo fishermen do guest-appearances with their sogow in the shape of various types of fish, a hippopotamus, etc....These puppets, aquatic animals that have no legs -except for the hippo..." (!)  http://www.euronet.nl/users/edotter/mali/mali.html  or http://homepage.mac.com/edotter/mali/mali.htmlThe drawing included in the linked article offers a plausible portrayal of how your "mask"  might be displayed among the puppets hidden within the large animal structure-cum-puppet-theatre and her article does indeed refer to the metal posts included in the object's description.
      One other possible conclusion that also fits a different piece of the puzzle presented (the pirogue reference) is also contained in the den Otter article.  While the masquerade to which I have referred previously takes place on land, the author describes also that  "puppets and masks are paraded on boats that drift by on the Niger river, close to the beach. The musicians, singers and an occasional dancer are seated in boats as well."  (Emphasis mine.)  So, my guess is that your hippo arises from one or the another of these masquerade scenarios described by den Otter.
      And just in case I haven't spun enough tangents in this posting, here is a Mali-and-Hippo-related tidbit from Mary Jo Arnoldi's article on Public Monuments in Mali. (African Arts, Summer, 2003)  Did you know that "The word hippo, mall in the Bamana language, is an eponym for the country itself."?
      And finally:
      *** I am very excited to announce that Mamadou Diabate's recording, Behmanka, has been nominated for a 2006 Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album of the Year!  (Also nominated are Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate for In the Heart of the Moon.)  If you're looking for some musical accompaniment to accompany your explorations of African material culture, go to http://www.mamadoukora.com/pages/recordings.html to hear samples from the recordings of this extraordinary artist.
      P.S.  Links to Elisabeth den Otter's web-site for more information on Malian (and other traditions of) puppetry:

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