TITLE: Dogon Nommo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Dogon
DESCRIPTION: Nommo (circumcision) mask with seated figure on head
CATALOG ID: AFML003
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Circumcision
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Dogon people of Mali use a tremendous variety of masks, most of which center around funeral rites. Traditionally, the Awa Society controlled the use of masks. This nommo mask would have been used in the adult initiation ritual for boys between the ages of 9 and 12, at their circumcision. During the ritual, members of the Awa Society wear masks such as this one, representing important ancestors.

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TITLE: Duma Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Duma
DESCRIPTION: Anthropomorphic face mask
CATALOG ID: AFGA004
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Funeral
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; natural pigment

The Duma (also called Adouma or Aduma) people of Gabon is a small ethnic group known for being expert boatwrights and merchants. They inhabit the south bank of the upper Ogooué River. They continue to practice their traditional animistic religion, using masks major social events, such as adult initiation rituals and funerals. Duma masks tend to have a flat or slightly rounded shape, with geometrical patterns and two or three colors.

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TITLE: Nuu-Chah-Nulth Killer Whale
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Nuu-Chah-Nulth (Nootka)
DESCRIPTION: Wii-iits-stan-uup Kaa-kaa-whii (Killer Whale) Mask
CATALOG ID: NACA001
MAKER: Wilson “Buddy” George (Vancouver Island, 1958- )
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 2002
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; string

The Nuu-chah-nulth, formerly known as the Nootka, originally inhabited the western coast of Vancouver Island.  One of their important rituals is the potlatch.  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.

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 Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Tanzania
ETHNICITY: Makonde
DESCRIPTION: Lipiko Face Mask
CATALOG ID: AFTZ001
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mapiko
USE: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: 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.  Most Makonde lipiko masks are helmet masks worn with a body mask depicting a pregnant woman. This mask is a rarer face mask, made and used primarily by the Makonde of Tanzania.  Like other lipiko masks, it is 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.  Face masks, unlike helmet masks, are worn by stilt dancers.  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.

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: Lega Muminia Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Democratic Republic of
ETHNICITY: Lega
DESCRIPTION: Muminia Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD014
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bwami Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Lega people of the Democratic Republic of Congo use masks in a very wide variety of ways, but primarily for initiation into adulthood and to confirm status. The Bwami Society exercises authority over many aspects of social and religious life, including initiation.  All Lega masks are therefore Bwami Society masks. Small masks (lukwakongo) are used for identification and worn on the body or are hung on a fence to represent children of the ancestors. Larger masks, such as this muminia mask, are worn on the face or top of the head. The word muminia means “necessary for initiation” and is worn by both the lowest grade members of the Bwami Society and the two highest ranks (Yananio and Kindi).

For more on Lega masking traditions, see Daniel Biebuyck, Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People (University of California Press, 1973).

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TITLE: Kwele Ekuk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Kwele
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Plank Mask
CATALOG ID: AFGA001
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral: Protection; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

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 (or Bwete) 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.

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TITLE: Bamana Chi Wara
TYPE: crown mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bamana (Bambara)
DESCRIPTION: Chi Wara Segu Crest
CATALOG ID: AFML012
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Initiation; Social Control; Status
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: brass plating; animal hair; leather; dyed cotton pompoms; cotton string

The Bamana people, sometimes called Bambara, are one of the largest ethnic groups in Mali. They have six major secret societies of different levels of prestige that conduct adult initiation rituals. Initiates are taught survival skills, social customs, and religious principles. The Chi Wara Society dances using crest masks only and teaches social values and agricultural techniques.

The Chi Wara itself typically takes the form of a roan antelope crossed with a human. The character itself is supposed to represent a culture hero born of the sky goddess (Mousso Koroni) and an earth god in the shape of a cobra. The Chi Wara taught the Bamana to sow and harvest crops.

There are four major kinds of Chi Wara: the Bougouni Southern; the Segu Northern; the Bamako Northern; and the Sikasso. This specific mask represents the third style of Chi Wara, the Bamako from the northern region, and depicts a male.

The Chi Wara is danced in male and female pairs, with each wearing a full suit of raffia fiber and the crest mounted on a basket (as here) that sits atop the dancer’s head. The male dancer leads, leaping like an antelope and scratching the ground with a staff to illustrate the teaching of agriculture. The female follows behind and fans the male to spread his powers to the village.

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TITLE: Yombe Nganga Diphomba Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
ETHNICITY: Kongo (Yombe)
DESCRIPTION: Female Nganga Diphomba (Diviner) mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD020
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Divination; Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment; glass

The Kongo (or Bakongo) is a populous nation historically inhabiting the west coast of central Africa, now confined to the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Angola. The Kongo maintain an animistic religion based on ancestor cults and worship of the supreme god Nzambi. The Kongo people are divided into several subethnicities, including Beembe, Bwende, Vili, Sundi, and the makers of this mask, the Yombe.

The nganga diphomba, or diviner, plays an important role in Yombe society, detecting and punishing sorcery. Most major social ills are attributed to sorcery in Kongo cultures, including drought, crime, and accidents. The society of diviners wears two kinds of masks to identify and punish sorcerers, male (with a beard) and female (with a topknot). Both masks evoke ancestor spirits for the protection fo the diviner. With the mask, they paint their bodies and wear a skirt of turaco feathers and a belt of brass bells.  They use their own sorcery (kundu) to detect the culprit and counteract their curses.

Such masks may also be also used by the Khimba Society in adult initiation rituals, probably by the nganga diphomba himself.

For more on Kongo and Yombe masking traditions, see Marc Leo Felix ed., Congo Masks: Masterpieces from Central Africa, Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2018.

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TITLE: Senufo Kpelie
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
ETHNICITY: Senufo
DESCRIPTION: Kpelie Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCI015
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: ebony wood
OTHER MATERIALS: n/a

The Senufo people and reside primarily in Côte d’Ivoire, with some also living in Burkina Faso and Mali. The kpelie mask is used by men’s societies for the initiation of boys into adulthood, in funerals of important villagers, and in harvest festivals celebrating and giving thanks to the gods for a bountiful harvest.

The kpelie is always worn by men, but it combines the features of an ideal woman and an animal, such as an antelope, ram, or hornbill (as here), along with fertility symbols, such as palm nuts. The scarification marks represent the Senufo ideal of female beauty. The two appendages that always extend downward from the mask represent symbolic legs that tether the spirit to the earth.  The figure on the head, whether it is an animal, ancestor, or symbol, depend on the caste group to which ancestor represented by the mask belonged. The hornbill, for example, is linked to metal smiths.

The masquerader will dance to traditional music and singing while holding an iron staff or a horsetail whisk and wearing a robe composed of knotted diamonds (the shape believed symbolic of the cycle of life) and a long raffia fiber collar and cuffs to disguise the hands.

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TITLE: Chokwe Cikunza
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Zambia
ETHNICITY: Chokwe
DESCRIPTION: Cikunza Mask for the Makishi Dance
CATALOG ID: AFZM001
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Hunting; Secret Society
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: burlap
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; pigments; string

The populous Chokwe people of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia are known as some of the most skilled wood carvers in Africa. They resisted colonization far longer than most peoples of the region, despite repeated incursions by the Portuguese and other Europeans.

The Chokwe use masks in many contexts. The makishi (dead) dance is performed at the end of adult initiation rituals for boys, called mukanda, primarily in Zambia. The cikunza mask represents an ancestor and is worn by an older man to teach boys the knowledge they will need as men, particularly relating to hunting and sexual relationships. Unlike most African masked dancers, the cikunza does not wear a raffia fiber suit, but instead paints his body in bright geometric patterns.  After the boys are circumcised, the newly minted adults remove the masks from their relatives and swear an oath to maintain the secrets of their identities.

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