What do elephants, lions, antelopes, hornbills, buffalo and hyenas all have in common? They are all animals that live in the savannah and light forests of Mali. They are also the main protagonists of the festivities that are celebrated annually by the Bambara, Bozo, Marka, Malinké and Somono at the beginning of the harvest season or the main fishing and hunting season, especially in the region around Ségou and Koulikoro. All of them are thus World Heritage Sites. Because in 2014, the celebrations in Markala, in the Ségou region, were declared a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Site. Marakala sogobò in Mali
Marakala sogobé in Mali
The festivities, which include many different forms of artistic expression including music, song, dance and puppetry, have different focuses and names depending on the region. The most common name is Sogo bò, which means ‘the appearance of the animals’. The expression goes back to the oldest characters of the puppet play tradition; the animals. They play a crucial role in the narratives of the region. All animated characters and masks are called sogow, meaning ‘animals’, including anthromorphic characters. These usually represent social stereotypes or famous personalities. Mystical puppets or spirits are also part of the varied repertoire.
This 10-minute video on the 2011 celebrations in Markala provides a small insight into the diverse performance scenarios.
© DNPC, Direction Nationale du Patrimoine Culturel du Mali, 2011
In the collection of the Theatre Figure Museum there are many different ‘tracks’ of those festivals, such as head elements of animal figures, small movable (essay) figures in human and animal form, musical instruments such as sound woods, rattles and drums.But we still know far too little about the fragments and cultural performances to which they once belonged.
When, by whom, for which village and for which festival were the puppets made? How were they originally performed and what meanings are hidden within the puppets? All these questions must continue to be explored in order to preserve the cultural heritage of Mali for posterity and to carry it from Lübeck out into the world.