Crest Mask (Chi Wara). early 20th century - mid 20th century. Wood, raffia, and brass. Gift of Cecilia and Irwin Smiley. 1991-7-1
Crest Mask (Chi Wara). Mid 20th century. Wood, beads. Gift of Richard J. Faletti Family. 2001-16-1
This diagram helps us see the three different animals that make up the Chi Wara. Crest Mask (Chi Wara). Mid 20th century. Wood, beads. Gift of Richard J. Faletti Family. 2001-16-1
Check out this example for the activity below!

Take a look at the art in the slideshow at the top of the page. Click the arrow to see more than one image. What do you see?

Both of these art objects are crest masks. They were made to be attached to a cap and worn on top of the head.

These crest masks were made around 50–100 years ago by the Bamana people. The Bamana people live primarily in West Africa.

Chi Wara Animals

These crest masks represent a mythical creature called the Chi Wara.

The Chi Wara is a legendary creature that is a combination of three different animals.

Which three animals do you think make up the Chi Wara? Where do you see those animals on the artwork?

The animals that make up the Chi Wara are an antelope, aardvark, and pangolin. All three animals have characteristics that connect to farming:

  • The antelope can run fast for a long time and has a lot of endurance. You can see the horns of the antelope on the Chi Wara.
  • Pangolins are very good at digging and are covered in thick scales. You can see the curved body and scales of a pangolin on the Chi Wara.
  • The aardvark is also very good at digging and likes to eat ants with its long tongue. You can see the body, long nose, and ears of the aardvark on the Chi Wara.

Legend of the Chi Wara

In the Bamana language, "Chi Wara" means "excellent farmer" or "wild farming animal."

The Chi Wara spirit is believed to have taught the Bamana people to farm the dry savannah of Mali.

According to Bamana legend, Chi Wara used its antlers to dig into the earth, making it possible for humans to use the land for farming. Humans learned how to farm from Chi Wara and soon their lands became bountiful with crops. However, the humans were wasteful with their food, and the Chi Wara was disappointed. Chi Wara buried itself in the earth and disappeared.

The Bamana people decided to create a mask to honor and remember the Chi Wara.

Only the best farmers in the community can wear the Chi Wara crest mask during ceremonies at the beginning and end of the farming season.


Work with two family members or friends to create a symbolic mythical creature of your own by combining different animals!


  • Paper
  • Pencil


  1. With the help of your partners, you will create a new creature that is a combination of three different animals! Each person will be in charge of one part of the creature: the head, middle, or end.
  2. Talk with your partners about what you want your creature to represent. The Chi Wara represents farming. Perhaps your creature might represent nature or strength. Be creative and choose your own theme!
  3. Next, decide who will be in charge of drawing each part of the animal. There are three parts: head, middle, or end.
  4. Once you know which part you are in charge of, secretly think about which animal you would like to choose to be a part of your group's creature. (For example, your group chose the theme of strength and you are drawing the head of the animal. You can secretly choose to draw the head of an elephant because they are strong in body and mind.)
  5. Fold your paper into three equal sections. Keep the paper folded up so that you can only see one section at a time.
  6. Next, each partner will have a turn to draw part of their animal on the paper. You will keep your drawing a secret as you are working!
  7. Fill up the whole drawing space of your section and leave two lines at the edge of your paper section so the next partner knows where to start their drawing.
    • The first person will draw the head of their animal on the first section of the paper.
    • The second person will draw the middle of their animal on the second section of the paper.
    • The third person will draw the end of their animal on the third section of the paper.
  8. Once the third person has completed their drawing, unfold the paper!
  9. What does your creature look like? Which animal did everyone choose? Why?