The Bamana (bah-mah’-nah) people, one of many ethnic groups in Mali, are an African farming and hunting culture living on the western edge of the Sahara Desert. Tunics such as this Hunter’s Shirt traditionally play an important part in rituals and ceremonies occurring before a hunt. These activities, which often take place at the boundary between village and wilderness, prepare hunters to go into the world of dangerous animals and spirits. The hunters call on supernatural energies to assure safety and success.
This Hunter’s Shirt is made of white cotton strips that were sewn together and then dyed with bark. The cloth is decorated with charms that are believed to have special powers. Animal teeth, claws, horns, and fur, considered good-luck charms, are attached to the hunter’s shirt along with secret pouches called basi. The Bamana people believe that if the basi are opened, the charms inside lose their power to ward off evil and bring good fortune to the wearer. Although hunting is a disappearing practice in most of Africa, these tunics are still worn during festivals, processions, and other gatherings as symbols of success.
Use the following suggested questions and discussion points while looking at the Hunter’s Shirt:
The Bamana are well known for their earthendyed textiles. The Hunter’s Tunic is dyed with bark. Cloth can also be dyed with mud. Mud cloth (bogolan) has become a symbol of Malian identity.
Make your own mud-cloth hunter’s tunic and design it with marks and shapes that mean something to you!
Alternatively, designs can be made on heavy white cotton fabric by using liquid school glue as the resist (the white part of the design) and letting it dry before applying the tempera.