TITLE: Yaka Kholuka
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
ETHNICITY: Yaka
DESCRIPTION: Kholuka Makunda Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Makunda
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: split cane; cotton cloth; resin; raffia; natural pigments

The Yaka people of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a male initiation society known as Makunda or Nkhaanda, which is charged with circumcising, hazing, and teaching boys to become a man (mainly, education in hunting and sex).  During the circumcision dance performances (kinkanda), the initiates wear special masks while their teachers alone are permitted to wear the ritual masks of the Makunda. After initiation, the boys are led out of seclusion and back into the community.  Before festivities can begin, the head teacher (kahyuudi or kayudi) commissions a carver (nkalaweeni or mvumbwa) to create a series of masks. Many types of masks are worn or danced in succession during the final initiation feast:

  • Kambaandzya (a raffia cloth domed helmet mask with a brim bisecting it; the mask is covered in black resin and painted with geometric designs in red, white, blue, and yellow)
  • Tsekedi (a leather or raffia cloth helmet mask with a white, human face and a series of horizontal discs on an inverted cone topping the helmet)
  • Mweelu (a helmet made of braided raffia fiber with large numbers of feathers; birdlike eyes in wood, gourd or bamboo; and a hornbill beak for a mouth)
  • Ndeemba (an abstract human face with bulging eyes carved of wood; many phallic rods come out of the helmet in all directions, including the inverted cone on the very top)
  • Kholuka (a polychrome human face with bulging eyes, and an open mouth showing the teeth, carved of wood; horizontal discs on an inverted cone come from the top, with bird feathers, and polychrome figures of humans or animals)

The kholuka, also known as a mbaala, is worn either by the leader of the initiation or the senior initiate.  It is the last danced, and it is danced alone to signal the end of the initiation ceremony. Unlike the other masked dances, which are entertaining to the audience, the kholuka creates a sense of unease due to the overtly sexual behavior of the dancer.

There are also masks not danced by initiates, known as Kakuungu. This mask is a large, long face mask with a distorted human-like face having bulbous chin, cheeks, and forehead.  It is thought to represent an ancestor and is danced by the herbal shaman to stop bleeding after the circumcision. Similarly, the mbawa, a mouthless helmet mask of raffia cloth over an ovular structure of split cane, with horn s to symbolize the pakasa buffalo, is not danced by initiates.

For more on Yaka masquerade, see Arthur P. Bourgeois, Art of the Yaka and Suku (1984).

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TITLE: Pende Giphogo (Kipoko) Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of the Congo
ETHNICITY: Eastern Pende
DESCRIPTION: Giphogo (Kipoko) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mukanda Ritual
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Protection; Purification; Social Control; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cloth; string; pigment

The Pende people have many different kinds of masks they wear, especially at adult initiation rituals. The giphogo (or kipoko) is one such mask.  The word giphogo means “sword wielder” and is a symbol of power among the Eastern Pende. The mask is kept in the chief’s home, and only chiefs are allowed to authorize dance with this type of mask on the occasion of initiations and rituals of the ancestor cult of the Eastern Pende. Its uses include protection from evil spirits; prayers or thanks for successful harvests and tribal fertility; to identify and punish sorcerers; and adult initiation during mukanda rituals.

The masquerader carries one or two flywhisks made of animal hair, which are used to mimic agricultural work or to purify the village grounds.

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TITLE: Kwele Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Kwele
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
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.

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TITLE: Lewa Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Schouten Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Austronesian)
DESCRIPTION: Lewa Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker on Vokeo Island
CEREMONY:
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Schouten Islands are a group of six small volcanic islands in the province of East Sepik in Papua New Guinea.  Male initiation ceremonies celebrate the passage of boys to adulthood and teach them the obligations and skills they will need to survive. This type of mask is know as a lewa and represents a male masked spirit. The carving from the ears to the nose likely represents facial decoration with bone or shell, suggesting the mask was linked to the son of a tribal elder or chief. The mask has also been decorated with a ochre and white clay. The lewa spirit enforces prohibitions against eating certain crops that enable ritual leaders to stockpile food to be used later during important ceremonies and festivals.

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TITLE: Kwakwaka’wakw Rabbit
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Kwakwaka’wakw
DESCRIPTION: Rabbit Mask
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).

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TITLE: Makonde Lipiko Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Tanzania
ETHNICITY: Makonde
DESCRIPTION: Lipiko
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mapiko
USE: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Makonde people inhabit the bordering region of Tanzania and Mozambique. They are a matrilineal society divided into clans governed by a chief and council. The Makonde are known as some of the most expert mask carvers in Africa, with two kinds of masks prevalent in their society.  This mask, known as a lipiko, is a helmet mask used primarily for the mapiko dance held at adult initiation rituals for boys and girls and at funerals. The masquerader channels the spirit of dead ancestors through the mask.  During initiation, boys and girls are both taught how to make the masks and perform them.  Women perform their initiation away from the males, who never see the masquerade.

This mask came from the Tanzania region of Makonde territory and was danced in the 1960s or 1970s.

For more on the Makonde mapiko ceremony, see Paolo Israel, In Step with the Times: Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press 2014).

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TITLE: Asmat Jiwawoka Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Irian Jaya, Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
DESCRIPTION: Jiwawoka Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Jiwawoka Ceremony
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; natural pigments; animal bone; seeds

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. Jiwawoka (sometimes written Jinokas) is an Asmat tradition in which masked dancers of a secret society initiate young men into adulthood.

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TITLE: Careto
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Portugal
SUBREGION: Bragança
ETHNICITY: Iberian
DESCRIPTION: Careto
MAKER: Romeu Jorge Fernandes (Ousilhão, Vinhais, 1988- )
CEREMONY: Festa de Santo Estevão
PURPOSE: Adult Initiation; Celebration
AGE: 2016
MAIN MATERIAL: mulberry wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The caretos of the tiny village of Ousilhão, in the Vinhais township of Bragança, wear their masks not at Carnival, but during a winter festival in honor of the patron saint of the village, St. Steven (Santo Estevão). This festival is also known as the Festa dos Rapazes (Festival of the Boys), because it serves as an adult initiation ceremony for pubescent boys. The celebration is held on December 25-26 each year, and begins when the village priest symbolically crowns three men in the village square as a king and two vassals. These individuals are responsible for supplying the food and drink in the festivities to follow.

The ceremony that follows involves four masqueraders (historically men, but now women participate as well) bringing boys to the feast wearing demonic masks (caretos) and colorful, cloth costumes. Before and during the feasting and drinking, the masqueraders will sing and dance to the music of bagpipes (gaita de foles), castanets, and drums. Their goal is to make the initiates thoroughly drunk.

Afterward, unmasked villagers carry the image of St. Steven to the village church. The masked characters, being both demonic and drunk, are not allowed to enter the church.

This mask was carved by Romeu Jorge, a military policeman who has been carving the masks since the age of 12.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; plant fiber; natural pigment

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.  Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes. Some are reserved for members of secret societies having varying social ranks.  Others are mainly for entertainment. This mask has an articulated jaw to make the mask look like it is talking while being danced. It would be used in a ritual for initiation of girls into adulthood by a secret society.

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TITLE: Chamba Buffalo Crest
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Chamba
DESCRIPTION: Buffalo Crest Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Vara Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Chamba inhabit the region south of the Benue River in Nigeria and Cameroon.  They number in the range of 20,000 persons. Their religious beliefs are animistic, with a strong component of ancestor worship. Their masks, danced by the Vara Society at important events such as adult initiations for boys (circumcision ceremonies), important funerals, and the appointment of a chief, usually take the form of a buffalo with a wide open mouth, symbolizing the mythical origin of the Chamba people. They are worn atop the head with a raffia fiber suit covering the face and body. According to legend, the first Chamba originated with a magical buffalo woman who removed her animal skin to bathe in a lake. A young man saw her and hid her animal skin, and they married, producing the first Chamba people. The masks can be female (red colored) or male (black colored).

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