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with Africa. Thank you so much".
Pam Wright, L.A., USA
"Everything went perfectly. like
a fairytale. We will plan all our future visits with you..."
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"Wonderful..A grand and adventurous
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here to read more testimonials from our list of satisfied clients
> General Africa Safari Articles
The following is a general over view of African Masks.
If you are interested in collecting African mask from galleries or
even primary sources we are going to establish some links which take
you to places where masks are for sale. Stay with the site as it
progresses and the links will be established to useful African Masks
Those of you who are thinking of a collecting trip to Africa may
well find the following site useful. There are still places in
Africa where genuine old masks can be bought, generally through
dealers. Also watch out for fakes as they do abound. Remember buy
things you like as investment can go up as well as down. If you like
that carving or mask then the value is not as important. The link is
African-Vacations.com, see the Carvings page link.
The African masks of this area are well documented by Ladislas Segy
in Masks of Black Africa. Much of the following section on African
Masks is influenced by his work.
The African masking traditions of this part of the World are
extremely fertile and varied. The traditions supporting the masks
are generally associated with the spirits of ancestors, rites of
passage, fertility and initiation ceremonies. Dance is generally
involved in the use of the masks. Segy lists the following types of
Rituals of cosmology, myth and mythological heroes or animals
Rituals for increase
Rituals for rites of passage
Initiations including secret societies
Masks can be used for different ceremonies often having multiple
purposes. The size and style of masks are diverse, depicting
animals, human faces and more abstract styles in sizes from a few
centimetres to 4.5 metres in the case of the Dogon Iminana ( mother
mask ). With only a few exceptions the masks are all part of a full
costume and not just an isolated piece of decoration.. Segy notes:-
Face coverings Helmet masks Headdresses Masks with prominent breasts
Amulets Insignia of grade Crowns of bead work
Wood The major material was wood due to the large forest and range
of species available. The choosing of a tree from which to make a
mask was not as we might do today, find one and chop it down. Rather
the carver would seek the help of a diviner and undergo a
purification ceremony and when the first blow was struck he would
drink some of the sap in order to form a brotherhood with the tree?s
spirit. Mask would be carved from one piece of wood with nothing
jointed, with some of the masks this created severe technical
difficulties when the early carvers only had simple tools. Usually
green timber was used as this was easier to cut. Certain varieties
would be used for some special masks, but in general the softer
woods were used
Ivory was used by the Warega and Benin. The ivory was the property
of the Benin kings (Oba) and they were the only ones to wear ivory
as a mark of office. The carving of the Warega was not as refined
but has a strong impact.
Brass was used by the Benin, Senufo and Ashanti.
Other Materials Knitted materials were used as were beadwork,
basketry and fabrics. Additional materials included :- shells,
beads, twigs, bark, teeth, hair, beaten or repousse metal, vegetable
fibres and skin, to mention a few.
West Africa The masks of this area are well documented by Ladislas
Segy in Masks of Black Africa. His book lists the following areas:-
Guinea-Bissau Republic of Guinea Sierra Leone Mali Liberia Ivory
Coast Upper Volta Ghana Nigeria Cameroon
Within each of these countries can be found ancient traditions
associated with individual tribes displaying common links. The areas
associated with some groups cross boundaries. The names of the
different tribes is too extensive to list at the moment.
Congo Zaire Zambia
Similar themes and traditions are found with the masks from this
area when compared with those of the Western countries. In the early
Fifteenth Century the well established Kongo people had close
contact with the Portuguese and later some converted to
Christianity. This has had some influence on the type of festivities
and masks. The Kongo dominated various tribes in the area of these
the Woyo and Yombe produced notable mask The Ndunga masks of the
Woyo were larger than life size and had projecting foreheads large
cheeks with small eyes, the surface of these faces was painted with
white or brightly coloured asymmetrical designs.
The Western Pende on the Kwilu River in Zaire have two major types
of mask. The Minhajl, which represent the ancestors and the Mbuya
which represent various village characters such as the fool, the
prostitute, the chief etc. These masks are used in the reinforcement
of social control. The amusing performances are brightened by the
triangular faces of the masks with bulging eyes, open mouths
containing carved teeth painted in a variety of colours. The more
powerful Minganji masks are simpler circular forms made from raffia
with tubular eyes and no other features. All the masks are
constructed in secret away from the village.
In the Makenda circumcision ceremony the Mbuya appear from out of
the bush and dance in the village square until dusk. As the sky
darkens, Minganji, masked dancers, materialise and move around the
village at a distance, helping to develop the sense of awe and
unease. In the secret circumcision camp the initiated youths are
allowed to handle the mask as they are now fully fledged members of
Many other styles are found in these areas.
Tanzania and Mozambique are both home to the Mekonde one of the best
know tribe of mask makers in East Africa. The Mekonde masks come in
various styles, the southern groups using the helmet type. The
features of these masks are often realistic and are worn with a
cloth covering the head of the dancer. Scarification is used. The
characters represented are familiar to the local people:- the old
man, the doctor, the young woman and the Arab,
some animal masks are found.
It must be noted that the masks of Africa represent a wealth of
forms and designs which have been well collected and catalogued. The
total range is by no means represented here. The common connections
between the masks and the different groups are obviously strong.
Would you like regular updates on the Masking World?
© Ian Bracegirdle 2004 1 Elderberry Close East Morton BD20 5WA UK
01535 692207 http://mask-and-more-masks.com You may use this article
freely on condition that you include this copyright line and URL and
that people who subsequently use this article follow the same
conditions. Thank you for accepting these conditions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Teacher, Course Leader, Mask Enthusiast and Collector.
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