TITLE: Nafana Bedu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Nafana
DESCRIPTION: Female Bedu Association Female Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
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.

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TITLE: Bété N’gre Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Bété
DESCRIPTION: N’gre Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: iron tacks; kaolin; hardware; earth

The Bété people are closely related in ethnicity to their near neighbors, the We (Guere) and Dan peoples.  They live in the southwestern part of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  The Bété were historically hunters and warriors, but today they are primarily agrarian.  The Bété religion aims to harmonize the life of the people with nature and the ancestor spirits who oversee the welfare of the tribe.  Most Bété maintain their animist belief system.  Although they pray to a creator god, they routinely seek help through sacrifice of animals and eggs to supernatural spirits, including ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and animal spirits.

Each Bété ritual focuses on the maintenance and care of good relations with the world of ancestors, so as to assure the protection of the lineages. The religious cults give rise to numerous mask performances accompanied by music. The apprenticeship of male adolescents in dancing societies revolves around mastering the arts of musical instruments, song, and masked dance.

Bété societies have three classes of masks: kuduo masks are the rarest and most sacred, because they mediate between the living and the dead. Many villages have no kuduo masks, and none possesses more than one.

The most common type of Bété mask is the n’gre, which historically was used in a ceremony for restoring peace after a war, purifying the village of evil spirits, and presiding over dispute settlement and the punishment of wrongdoers. It is thought the mask was also used in war preparation dances to give the wearer magical protection and to terrorize potential enemies. N’gre masks can be made for dancing by adults or for training by young boys. Unlike masks in many other African societies, n’gre masks are not strictly controlled in morphology.  Considerable creative variation occurs among different mask makers. The mask on display here is an adult n’gre.

For more on Bété masked dances, see Armistead P. Rood, “Bété Masked Dance: A View from Within,” 2(3) African Arts 37-43, 76 (1969).

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TITLE: Iroquois Corn Husk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: Québec
ETHNICITY: Iroquois
DESCRIPTION: Corn Husk (Bushy Head) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Healing; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: braided corn husks
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) historically inhabited the northeastern regions of the United States and eastern Canada, before being displaced by Dutch and British settlers.  They maintain tribal lands in Ontario and Quebec today, reserved by treaty.

Most Iroquois nations had three medicine societies, one of which was the Society of Husk Faces.  Among the important rituals of the Society are celebration of the Midwinter Festival using the “Bushy Heads” or corn husk masks. They represent earthbound spirits from the other side of the world, where the seasons are reversed (which, in fact, they are south of the Equator). The beings taught the Iroquois the skills of hunting and agriculture. They perform predominantly two dances, known as the Fish Dance and the Women’s Dance. Unlike the False Face dancers, Husk Face dancers are mute. Like the False Face dancers, they can cure the ill by blowing hot ash or sprinkling water on their patients.

The Bushy Heads can be male or female, young or old.  Either men or women may dance in the Husk Face Society, and sometimes they choose masks of the opposite gender to the amusement of the audience.

For more on Iroquois masking traditions, see William N. Fenton, The False Faces of the Iroquois (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987).

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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: 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: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; kaolin clay; wicker

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in antelope leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Ancestor spirit masks such as these are used by the Ekpo Society, are worn at funerals and other secret society rituals. In the rituals, ceremonial plays known as Ikem (“sharing one heart and mind”) are performed to venerate the ancestors.  The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head and adorned with raffia fiber to hide the dancer’s face and body.

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TITLE: Tapuanu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Micronesia, Federated States of
SUBREGION: Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands
ETHNICITY: Micronesian
DESCRIPTION: Tapuanu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Soutapuana Society
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Protection; Secret Society
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: palm wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments (lime and coal)

The Micronesian islands are inhabited by an ethnic mix of Melanesian, Polynesian and Filipino peoples. The Nomoi Islands (formerly known as the Mortlock Islands) are a group of three large atolls in the Chuuk region of Micronesia: Satawan, Etal, and Lukunor. The Micronesian people have only a single kind of face mask, known as tapuanu, and created by the Soutapuana Society. The mask represents a protective ancestor spirit, and is danced in beachside and sacred house ceremonies to ward off typhoons that might harm the breadfruit tree, an important source of food for the inhabitants of the islands.  tapuanu mask danced by the Soutapuana Secret Society of the Nomoi Islands during ceremonies to protect the village and its breadfruit trees from natural disasters. The tapuanu can also frighten away ghosts that steal food.

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TITLE: Tapuanu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Micronesia, Federated States of
SUBREGION: Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands
ETHNICITY: Micronesian
DESCRIPTION: Tapuanu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Soutapuana Society
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Protection; Secret Society
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: breadfruit tree wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments (lime and coal)

The Micronesian islands are inhabited by an ethnic mix of Melanesian, Polynesian and Filipino peoples. The Nomoi Islands (formerly known as the Mortlock Islands) are a group of three large atolls in the Chuuk region of Micronesia: Satawan, Etal, and Lukunor. The Micronesian people have only a single kind of face mask, known as tapuanu, and created by the Soutapuana Society. The mask represents a protective ancestor spirit, and is danced in beachside and sacred house ceremonies to ward off typhoons that might harm the breadfruit tree, an important source of food for the inhabitants of the islands. The tapuanu can also frighten away ghosts that steal food.

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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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