TITLE: Kwele Ekuk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Kwele
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Plank Mask
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
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
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: Bamana N’tomo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bamana (Bambara)
DESCRIPTION: N’tomo Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control; Status
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

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 N’tomo Society originally comprised only uncircumcised boys and teaches the virtues of silence and discipline. For this reason, the N’tomo Society masks tend to have small, closed mouths. This mask is unusual in having a serrated beak, evoking a predatory bird.

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TITLE: Dan Maou Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Maou (Dan)
DESCRIPTION: Koma Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: burlap; cowrie shells; raffia fiber; iron bell; cotton wadding; string; kaolin clay

The Dan people are a large ethnic group inhabiting Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.  In the northwest region of Côte d’Ivoire is the Dan Maou, a subgroup of the Dan. The Maou are largely governed by a variety of secret societies that use masquerade to enforce social norms and punish witchcraft and sorcery. The Koma society uses this anthropomorphic bird-beaked mask to detect and punish sorcery.

For more on Dan masks, see Eberhard Fischer, Dan Forest Spirits: Masks in Dan Villages, AFRICAN ARTS, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 16-23 (1978).

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TITLE: Baule Mblo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
ETHNICITY: Baule
DESCRIPTION: Mblo (Portrait) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mblo Celebration
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baule people of Côte d’Ivoire use many kinds of cultural masks and are known for the artistry and skill of their carvers. The Mblo celebration serves primarily as entertainment and the conferring of social status on certain honored individuals.  At the end of the Mblo celebration, portrait masks are danced individually in a series of increasing complexity. Each mask represents an honored villager.  This specific mask represents a chief, as indicated by the status symbol atop the head.

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TITLE: Bamana N’tomo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bamana (Bambara)
DESCRIPTION: N’tomo Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control; Status
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil paint; hardware

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 N’tomo Society originally comprised only uncircumcised boys and teaches the virtues of silence and discipline. For this reason, the N’tomo Society masks tend to have small, closed mouths.

Many Bamana masks also have brass plating, unlike this one.  Blacksmithing and metallurgy play an important role in the N’tomo Society, so a brass covering greatly increases the status of a mask. However, the Bamana people, like many African peoples, are also fond of bright colors and use paint to increase the appeal of their masks.

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TITLE: Piaroa Warime Mask
TYPE: crown mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Venezuela
SUBREGION: Orinoco River Basin
ETHNICITY: Piaroa
DESCRIPTION: De’aruwa Ime
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Warime Ritual
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: bark cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: wicker; dried grass; beeswax; pigment

The Piaroa people inhabit the Orinoco River Basin region of Venezuela and northern Brazil. They are an extremely peaceful people with a political structure that anthropologists describe as nearly anarchic.

The warime ceremony is the biggest festival of Piaroa society. It includes a purification ritual in which masqueraders represent animal spirits and proclaim their deeds of the year to the tribe, good and bad, to seek respectively praise or forgiveness. This mask is called De’aruwa Ime and is worn straight up on the head, with macaw feathers coming out of the top, with the face and body covered in a dried plant fiber suit. Some believe this mask to represent a peccary. Other De’aruwa masks may represent a monkey, vampire bat, or bee (redyo). Masqueraders must receive religious instruction from a shaman beforehand, and his incantation is accompanied by music on traditional instruments.

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TITLE: Baule Bo Nun Amuin
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
ETHNICITY: Baule
DESCRIPTION: Bo Nun Amuin Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Funeral; Protection; Social Control; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

The Baule are a relatively large ethnic group inhabiting the eastern Côte d’Ivoire and parts of Ghana. They have a variety of masking traditions, but their most religiously important is the bo nun amuin. Bo nun amuin, translated roughly “god risen from the bush,” are sacred masks worn only by men. They channel powerful bush spirits and as such are used at funerals of village notables, to protect the village from external threats, and to instill discipline and punishment on violators of customs, especially women. They are danced to the sound of a loud bull-roarer, to warn women and children not to watch.

In the past, bo nun amuin were kept in shrines outside of the village, but now are brought to bush shrines on the day before the dance. The men formerly appear naked before the masks to assure the spirit of their masculinity, but today they simply drop their pants when they approach the masks. Before crossing the shrine’s threshold palm wine or gin will be poured over it, and then spat onto the mask as an offering to the mask spirit. Before the 1970’s, war prisoners were sacrificed to the spirit, but today animals such as dogs or chickens are used.  The society eats the sacrificial meat, and then the heart and liver of the animal is spat on the mask as an offering. The dancer is bathed and puts on protective amulets, blade shaped bark around his hands and knees, and rattles on his feet. The society next evokes the spirit by singing, and the mask can then leave the shrine for the dance. After the dance, the men shout “k buno,” “go back to the bush,” to usher the potentially dangerous spirit out of the village.

Bo nun amuin masks have varied forms, but they tend to assume the form of a mythological beast combining attributes of an antelope and leopard, sometimes with anthropomorphic features as well. The resemblance to the kponyungo or “fire spitter” funerary mask of their Senufo neighbors is sometimes striking. This specific mask has the relatively unusual shape of an abstract, elongated warthog.

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TITLE: Songye Kifwebe Kilume
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of the Congo
ETHNICITY: Songye
DESCRIPTION: Bwadi Society Kifwebe Kilume Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Social Control; Social Status; War Preparation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; animal hair

Among the Songye and Luba peoples of central Africa, the Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe Society commands high status, because its members are considered to have magical powers to invoke spirits. Among the masks used by the Kifwebe Society is the Kilume (male) mask here. Kilume masks are danced with a suit of mesh and a long mantle of raffia fiber. The masqueraders were used primarily to enforce social norms, to intimidate enemies in war, to attend male circumcisions, and at bukishi initiations teaching social and religious principles. Today, they exist primarily to preserve tradition and provide entertainment.

The dance of the male Kifwebe masquerader is erratic and energetic, reflecting the intimidating policing role played by this part of the Society.

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