Chiwara is a Bamana mythical hero, believed to have introduced
agriculture to the Bamana people. Formerly, performing at harvest
ceremonies, Chiwara dancers today appear in farming contest.
In Africa, religious beliefs and cultural ideals are given expression in masquerades, primarily created for ceremonial and ritual occasions although in recent years also for entertainment purposes. Throughout west and central Africa, masquerades give tangible form to an ancestral or nature spirit entity. Masquerades perform in rituals and ceremonies that regulate the social life of the community while assuring abundant harvests and general fertility. Regarded as the "face" of the spirit, it must be remembered that a mask is but one part of a larger masquerade costume.
masquerade traditions are performed throughout the continent in many different forms. Although each region may have its own type or style of masquerade performance, masking traditions share similar purposes and reasons for being executed. Important reasons for performing masquerades include rites of passage (funerals, births, and weddings), to honor lineage and important ancestors, to maintain social control, and to promote agricultural production. Masquerade performances incorporate dance, singing, music playing, and acting. While masquerades honor both men and woman, usually they are performed by men. In African art, masquerades have been studied because of fine wooden masks that are carved for the performance. Recently, this focus has changed to include all aspects of the masquerade, including costumes, songs, instruments, and the response of the audience.
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