TITLE: Yaqui Pasko’ola Mask
TYPE: face mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Pasko’ola
FUNCTION: celebration; entertainment; funeral; protection
AGE: ca. 1970s
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string; horse hair; shoe string

The Yaqui and related Mayo people inhabit the desert in the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona. Their religious beliefs are a syncretic version of traditional animist practices and Jesuitical Catholicism. The pasko’olas (in the Spanish, pascolas) were malignant spirits, or children of the Devil, whom God won in a game. For that reason, their masks frequently have crucifixes and they wear a belt with twelve bells, each representing an apostle. To symbolize their evil origins, the masks have ugly expressions and vermin such as lizards, snakes and scorpions painted on them. In addition, dancers wear cords and butterfly cocoons on their legs, representing snakes and their rattles. They also wear a flower on their head, to symbolize rebirth and spring. They frequently play the role of clowns, provoking laughter in the audience by mimicking animals, reversing gender roles, organizing mock hunts, and making jokes.

Pasko’olas are danced at every major religious festival, as well as at birthdays, weddings, and funeral celebrations. For example, in Vicam, pasko’olas have traditionally danced on Día de San Juan Bautista (June 24). Sometimes a group of pasko’olas will be accompanied by a deer dancer, who dances with a taxidermy deer head as a crest. Generally, only men are pasko’ola dancers, but women have sometimes been allowed to dance with the permission of the male dancers.

This mask was culturally used in pasko’ola ceremonies for many years.


TITLE: Temne Bundu Mask
TYPE: crest mask
COUNTRY: Sierra Leone
DESCRIPTION: Bundu Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bundu Society
AGE: ca. 1960s

The Temne people of Sierra Leone is unusual in having a female secret society with a masking tradition exclusively its own.  The Bundu Society uses a-Nowo crest masks during girls’ initiation rituals involving adulthood and genital mutilation. The mask represents the Temne conception of an ideal woman. The a-Nowo dancer wears the mask atop the head with a full body costume of dark raffia fiber attached, so that no part of the dancer is visible. A-Nowo masked dancers may also appear at important social events, such as visits of foreign dignitaries and funerals of important members of society. Men carve the mask but cannot participate in the ritual.


TITLE: Baining Anguangi Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East New Britain Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Baining)
DESCRIPTION: Uramot Anguangi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Night (Atut) Fire Dance
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: tapa cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: bamboo; vines; pigment from chewed roots and coconut husk ash

The Baining people live in eastern New Britain Island area known as the Gazelle Peninsula, in a mountainous tropical forest.  They are a Melanesian people closely akin to other groups in Papua New Guinea.  They traditionally live in small villages with dispersed political authority.  The Baining use their masks to unify the otherwise dispersed villagers, usually in celebrations of major events such as yam harvest, births, deaths, or adult initiation for both boys and girls.  Some dances are for the day time, mostly those centered around female tasks such as sowing, harvesting, and births.  Atut dances, also called fire dances because they’re performed around a bonfire, are held at night and center around male activities such as hunting.

The masks are mostly made of mulberry or breadfruit tree bark mashed and pounded into a cloth (“tapa cloth”) over bamboo frames.   This specific mask, the anguangi or atutki, is used in night dances by the Uramot group of Baining people. Unlike other Baining masks, the anguangi is usually retained in the house and not discarded after the ceremony.


TITLE: Nafana Bedu Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
DESCRIPTION: Female Bedu Association Female Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Nafana people of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have developed a Bedu Secret Society only in the last century. It is probably a successor to the Sakrobundi Secret Society banned by the British due to the Society’s function of violently punishing supposed sorcerers.  The Bedu society is charged with the less malignant function of village purification during a month-long new year’s celebration annually, as well as during harvest festivals and funerals.  The bedu itself represents a mythical ox-like beast that, in Nafana myth, cured a sick child and later disappeared into the bush.  Although these masks are worn over the face, their exceptional size requires them to be made of relatively light wood.

Bedu masks come in both genders, with the male masks having horns, and the female (such as this one) having a circle or disc on top. Most such masks of either gender are painted in kaolin clay with abstract geometrical patterns, checker marks and jagged fins being favored.  Sometimes red, blue, or black pigments are used as well.


TITLE: Hemba Soko Mutu Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
DESCRIPTION: Soko Mutu (“Man’s Brother”) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: funeral
AGE: 2000-2005

The Hemba people of southeastern Congo are an agricultural group closely related to the Luba people. They live in ancestor-based clans headed by an elder (fuma mwalo) and organized by a secret society for men (Bukazanzi) and one for women (Bukibilo).

Among the east African peoples, masks rarely represent non-human primates, because the resemblances to human beings are considered unsettling. One important exception is the soko mutu (“man’s brother”) mask of the Hemba. The soko mutu represents a chimpanzee, and the raised eyebrows and wide, jagged mouth are intended to be fearsome.  The Hemba dance the soko mutu mask at funerals in order to symbolize the presence of death in the form of a chimpanzee spirit. Recently, some Hemba have begun calling the mask misi gwa so’o (chimpanzee spirit).


TITLE: Gyōdō Bosatsu Mask
TYPE: face mask
DESCRIPTION: Mask of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva)
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gyōdō Procession
AGE: early 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: lacquer; paint

The gyōdō procession of Japan is a Buddhist ritual having several forms. Its oldest ceremony involves priests chanting sutras while walking in a procession around a temple building or idol. Gyōdō can also take the form of a masked funeral procession around a temple. The third type, which is the most commonly performed today, is a reenactment of the raigō, the legendary descent of the Amida Buddha from Nirvana to welcome the dead to the Western Paradise. In this ceremony, a priest wearing a mask of the Amida Buddha leads a procession of masked bosatsu.  Bosatsu is the Japanese term of Bodhisattva, a Buddhist saint who delays entering paradise to help mortals on Earth. Each bosatsu carries a heavenly musical instrument. The procession is still performed in some temples, such as Taima-dera in Nara or Sennyuji in Kyoto.


TITLE: Kuba Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
DESCRIPTION: Face Mask of Unknown Type
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Funeral; Status
AGE: ca. 1970s
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; burlap; cowrie shells; plant fiber; feathers; hardware; string; pigment

The Kuba people inhabit the area south of the Kasai River.  Although the Kuba have some two dozen mask types, those still in use today are mostly the three royal masks, whose use is reserved to those given permission by the quasi-divine king (nyimi). These are danced mainly as a form of entertainment reinforcing the status of the royalty and at chiefly funerals.  The adult initiation (mukanda) masks are now rarely used in Kuba society. This specific mask is of an unknown type.


TITLE: Kwele Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment; raffia fiber

The Kwele, also known as Kwese, people of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo now live between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. Social control is exercised by the Be’ete Secret Society, which uses masks to adult initiation rituals, funerals, and protection of the village from malicious spirits.  The masks embody protective bush spirits, with the antelope a dominant presence among them.  Kaolin clay is nearly always used in Kwele masks, because its white color has spiritual meaning to the Kwele.

This specific mask represents an ekuk, or forest spirit, of a lion.


TITLE: Asmat Det
TYPE: body mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Irian Jaya, Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: funeral; spirit invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment; wood; animal horn; sago leaves

The Asmat people are a Melanesian ethnic group inhabiting the Papua Province of Indonesia, along the southwestern coast. They are thought to number around 70,000 individuals. The Asmat celebrate a periodic feast, a series of rituals culminating when dead ancestors, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks like this one (Det), return to visit the village.

The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask (Bi) depicting a legendary orphan and entertains the village with comical antics.  The second type of mask, the Det, portrays the dead ancestor. Each mask of this type represents a specific individual, such as a deceased family member or illustrious ancestor.  At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for the realm of the ancestors (Safan).

Normally, this mask would have a long fringe of dried sago leaves along the sleeves and skirt, but most of this has been lost with time.


TITLE: Kwakwaka’wakw Rabbit
TYPE: face mask
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Kwakwaka’wakw
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; beads; plant fiber

A potlatch is a culturally important ceremony among the coastal indigenous Americans of British Columbia, held on many different occasions.  It could be held to celebrate a family member’s change in social status, such as a marriage, birth, death, or initiation into adulthood.  It could also be held to restore a person’s prestige after a loss in dignity, such as falling out of a canoe or making a hunting error.  The ceremony could last for one day or as long as three weeks, depending on the occasion and the wealth of the giver.

A potlatch typically included three important components: a feast, entertainment, and gift giving to the guests.  The entertainment consisted of singing and masked dancing.  The more lavish the gifts, feast, and entertainment, the greater the prestige gained by the giver.  Because masks and costumes were expensive and time-consuming to make, larger and more elaborate masks raised the prestige of the potlatch giver.  The masks themselves represented totemic animals such as the killer whale, raven, beaver, or shark, or else mythical figures and beasts, such as the KomokwaDzunukwa or Bukwus. This mask represents the rabbit, a totemic animal important to the Kwakwaka’wakw people as a source of fur. As a cultural character, the rabbit was typically represented as a form of clown.

For more on masks of the coastal peoples of western Canada, see Peter MacNair, Robert Joseph & Bruce Grenville, Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1998) and Edward Malin, A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians (Portland: Timber Press, 1978).