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.
- Favreau, Amaëlle. Un art de la fête au Mali. Masques et marionnettes dans le théâtre traditionnel du Mandé [An Art Festival in Mali. Masks and Puppets in the Traditional Theatre of the Mande]. Paris: École du Louvre, 2006.
- Rosen, Mary Sue, and Paul Peter. Colorful Sogo Bo Puppets of Mali. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer, 2012.
- Samake, Mamadou. “Jeux de masques à Sokona-fing” [Sokonafing Mask Games]. Jamana. No. 7. Bamako, May-June 1986.
- Samake, Mamadou. “Souvenirs mythiques du pays des anciens: jeux de masques et de marionnettes à Sokhonafing” [Mythical Recollections of the Country of the Ancestors: Sokhonafing Mask and Puppet Games]. Marionnettes. No. 23-24, 1989.
- Les Maîtres du Sogolon: utilisation populaire de la marionnette au Mali [Masters of Sogolon: Popular Use of Puppetry in Mali]. Documentary film by Xavier Van der Stappen. Coproduction UNIMA/Musée national du Mali/Ministère français de la Culture et de la Communication, 1990.
- “Sogo bo – les marionnettes du Mali de la région de Markala”. 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRgun–0BW8. Accessed 28 June 2013.