Coming forth of the masks and puppets in Markala


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Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Direction Nationale du Patrimoine Culturel du Mali, 2011

The coming forth of the masks and puppets is a ritual festivity practised among the Bambara, Bozo, Marka and Somono communities in Markala, and is characterized by masked dances, drums and songs featuring dancers and puppeteers. Each mask and puppet symbolizes the sacred link between man and nature, with particular animals incarnating specific virtues of society. During the dry season, young neophytes receive knowledge and instruction to ready them for the transition to adulthood. The initiation takes place in a sacred wood next to the Niger River, where the knowledge and skills associated with these ritual practices are transmitted to young boys by their elders. The initiation closes with libations and offerings to protective spirits and occult forces to obtain permission to become trained men, ready to wear the mask and to dance. After the rites, post-harvest celebrations provide a platform for diverse expressions of local cultures, through prayer, music, chants and dances, heralding a period of individual and collective fishing. The ritual illustrates the cohesion, dialogue, tolerance and continuity of the plural cultural identities of the Markala communities and neighbouring villages. It offers a space for festive encounters and exchanges to resolve intra- and intercommunity conflicts, as well as family quarrels and misunderstandings.