Puppet masquerade originated in the precolonial
era and remains a vital performance tradition today. It
draws together a rich body of visual, musical and dance
arts in a dynamic event that the community defines as
both entertainment and play.
But the theater also has a
serious side, and people talk about its capacity to reunify
the community, to create a context within which traditional
social values can be taught, and to provide a time
to give thanksgiving for the rains and for the harvest.
The puppets are played by five ethnic groups:
the Bamana, Maninka, Maraka, Boso and Somono who
live along the Niger River and its tributaries from the
Segou region in Mali, south into northern Guinea. The
first three of these groups are farmers and traders, while
the Boso and Somono are fishermen.
Sogo Bo is also unique among the
other masquerade genres in this region in the variety of
characters that are performed. These include wild animals
from the bush and river such as the elephant, lion,
hippo and crocodile; mythological and fantastic creatures
including a whole variety of bush and water genies; conventional
human types representing occupations like
farming, fishing, and the musical arts, as well as more
contemporary characters like policemen, government
The puppets are voiceless and do not perform
narrative skits, but their performance is accompanied by
a chorus of female singers.
Each major character has a
signature song, and these songs allude to the qualities of
the charcter, the social values of the group or to historical
events. The songs are drawn from a rich repertoire
of fables, legends, epics and proverbs.
People prepare for
months for the event, and for months afterwards they
talk about the performances.
Equally as important as the puppet masquerades’
entertainment value is the fact that these performances
remain important occasions for the exploration of beliefs
and values. Older animal characters, like the lion
and the elephant, continue to be played today, and people
relate the majesty of the lion and the size and steadfastness
of the elephant as important qualities for leaders in
The community has always embraced
new characters and a few that have been created in recent
years speak to people’s growing concerns about divorce,
poverty, and good governance Like folktales and
other theatrical forms, puppet masquerade
performances throw community values and everyday social relationships
into high relief, and these performances open them
up for public scrutiny and discussion.
from Playing with Time-
Art and Performance in Central Mali
Mary Jo Arnoldi.
from beloved Nahawa Doumbia