Researchers exploring puppetry used to know only very little about Africa and therefore believed that puppetry was merely a peripheral matter. In the past fifty years, however, more and more characters and information emerged that evoked rather colorful and spectacular images. Traditional puppet theatre is usually significant at ritual celebrations within tribes. Ancestor worship, initiation and death are important occasions that call for the use of puppetry. Often, plays are performed by male or secret societies, so the public presentations that we are accustomed to are missing to a large extent.
Peter Schumann, the legendary founder and director of the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont explains: “Puppet theater is the true extension of sculpture. And sculpture is an important subject matter of theater. Even static sculptures in museums continue to have an effect on us even after we have left the museum. Every object, every image, every picture, every sculpture can come to life.”
Click on a photo to start the gallery:
Rod puppet of the Bambara, middle of 20 century. Such puppets, combining human and animal representations, play a big role with the cults of the Bambara. Parts of the "person" and the “animal” are moved with the help of a second stick inside of the puppet.
Rod puppet, presumably 19th century. Puppets like that, with their long faces, typically accompany storytellers in their appearances.
Helmet mask girl with plaits, beginning of 20th century. Shoulder and arms are flexible. Helmet masks are carried or worn by ritual dancers who look more imposing with them.
Rod puppet, beginning of 20th century. Limbs flexible. The puppet play in Tunisia was influenced by Turkish and Sicilian puppet play. Primarily used for amusing public enlightenment.