Along the Niger and Bani rivers in the region of Segou, the former capital of the Bamana kingdom, performances with brightly painted and costumed puppets are staged by the village youth association. Although today Bamana farmers and Bozo fishermen participate together in these performances, oral tradition holds that the puppet theater originated among the Bozo, descendants of the Soninke rulers of the medieval Ghana Empire and perhaps the original inhabitants of the area.
For the puppet performances, a small mobile stage is covered with cloths or grasses concealing the men inside, who move the stage across the dance area. Fitted in front with a wooden animal head with articulated jaws, the stage is itself a large puppet. In addition, small carved heads or figures with movable limbs poke out from the top and are made to twirl and dance. Sometimes men wearing face or helmet masks perform alongside the puppets. The puppets and masks depict animals, fantastic creatures, and characters from village life-the farmer, the soldier, the mother, and so forth. Through the movements of the puppets and the songs that accompany them, the youth association is able to comment on the social and political life of the community.