Tag Archives: Castes

The Puppeteer

The heads of two West African puppets articulated at the mouth and adorned with cowrie shells, awaiting the puppeteer.

The West African puppeteer lurches, leans and sways, giving himself over to the demands of his carved creation. He is at once ajogi, a Yoruba dancer of the wooden image, and nyamakala, a Malinke force-handler, as he pulls on the ropes and rods of some of the oldest and richest of Africa’s surviving puppetry traditions. …

Joking Relationships

Painting of African women speaking, babies on their backs and bundles on their heads. Scenes like this play out every day in the course of joking relationships.

In most cultures, it would be rude to openly mock a complete stranger, absolutely insulting to call them a slave, and downright criminal to waltz into their home and steal their television. Within the context of joking relationships — or “cousinage”, sinankunya in Mali, rakiré in Burkina Faso — these things can be perfectly acceptable …

The Griot

Three paintings of a griot in three different phases of praise-singing, accompanied by his talking drum.

Above the din of everyday culture — from the spontaneous chatter of the marketplace to the polyphonic rhythms of the traditional shuttle loom, anvil or pestle — rises the acoustic poetry of the West African griot. If it is through the beautiful cacophony of the day-to-day that people assert the present, then it is by …