A few days ago, I came across a photo-article on BBC about the life of an African puppeteer. I thought that this fits well with the section ‘Great Art’ of this blog. Indeed, the craft of African puppeteer in Mali, and many other African countries (Niger, Angola, DRC, Togo, South Africa, etc), is passed on from generation to generation. The man interviewed in the BBC photo article, Yaya Coulibaly, said that his family had been African puppeteers since the 11th century. He learned the craft at the age of 12, and greatly cherishes the opportunity to make children and adults laugh in villages across Mali and the world. He has an entire collection of thousands of puppets accumulated over the years, and passed to him by his forefathers. He is not only a puppet master, but an adept storyteller, leaning on centuries of Malian legends, and tales. The puppets are made of wood, and in some areas of Africa, raffia is also used to make the puppets’ dresses. The art of puppeteering was first recorded in 2000 BC in Egypt, where most puppets were painted with natural colors using plants and roots; some puppets made of clay and ivory have been found in some ancient Egyptian tombs. Today, Mr. Coulibaly uses acrylic paint, and covers his puppets with bright colors (his own signature). His performances usually last about 1 h, and as always in African ceremonies, drums play a major part of the show. He has his own puppet company called Sogolon, which employs about 15 people.
Check out this great photo-article on BBC, and enjoy the work of an African puppet master! I also found great videos of a South African puppet master harmoniously choreographing a dance with two puppets and a performance by a Togolese puppet group… Simply outstanding! Check out the Museum for African Art discussing African puppetry, puppets in Kenya, the Rand African Art and the puppetry news blog which published the video below. Enjoy African puppetry!