The traditional theatre of the village of Lassa (Commune IV of the District of Bamako), Mali, is renowned for its puppets (both giant and small) and many masks. This theatrical art, called sogo bo (“animals come forth”) or do bo (“secret comes forth”), is supported by cultural associations which include all the young people living in the area, with the young men as performer/puppet makers. The repertoire showcases animals from Malian stories (lion, antelope, buffalo, ram) and representations of the bush spirits as well as many ordinary humans (Fulani herdsmen, a flighty young woman, her jealous husband).

After abandoning the religious function of Bambara masquerades, many sacred representations, such as the mythical antelope Ciwara, have been repurposed as popular theatre entertainments. The bird Kote Kono (Kòtè-kònò) is one of the most important symbolic representations. This giant puppet represents the vulture, a sacred animal that symbolizes the mysteries of creation and the liberation of the soul through mystical understanding. In Lassa and in neighbouring villages, this vulture puppet is seen as the protector of festivities. Masks and puppets appear as part of interdisciplinary arts festivals that combine theatre, music, song, dance and acrobatics. These performances are intended to honour and appease nature spirits in order to protect the village and provide abundant harvests.

Festivals are held throughout the year to promote the arrival of rain but also to celebrate important social events such as weddings or Islamic holy days. The associations of the village of Lassa also regularly participate in major festivals held to celebrate a pact of alliance between Lassa and the nearby villages of Grinkoumbe, Koulouniko and Sokonafing. These celebrations are designed to strengthen solidarity among the four villages that recognize their common roots. The entire community is enthusiastically involved in organizing these festivals. Theatrical performances are therefore highlights of social life and contribute to the cohesion and harmony of the village. Dances of masks and puppets in Lassa ensure the transmission of a rich cultural heritage from generation to generation and allow everyone to engage with the collective imagination.

(See Mali.)


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