TITLE: Fang Ngil Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Equatorial Guinea
ETHNICITY: Fang
DESCRIPTION: Ngil Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Purification; Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Fang people inhabit Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon and Cameroon and are divided between followers of their traditional animist  religion, byeri, and the Catholicism of their French colonizers. The Ngil Secret Society is responsible for social control by assembling in the night to punish sorcerers and purify the village of evil. The Society’s masks are made to resemble the powerful gorilla, and a full suit of raffia fiber is worn to enhance the effect of furriness.

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TITLE: Marka N’tomo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Marka
DESCRIPTION: N’tomo Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control; Status
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: copper sheet; dyed string; nails

The Marka people number about 25,000 individuals and are part of the Soninke ethnic group.  They inhabit northwest Mali and combine Muslim and animist traditions.

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.

Marka masking traditions closely resemble  those of their Bamana neighbors, with copper, brass or tin sheeting commonly used. Blacksmithing and metallurgy play an important role in the N’tomo Society, so the metal covering greatly increases the status of a mask.

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TITLE: Kalaallit Inuit Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Greenland
SUBREGION: Western Greenland
ETHNICITY: Kalaallit Inuit
DESCRIPTION: Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Uaajeerneq
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: red cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: animal fur; pigment; sperm whale tooth

Uaajeerneq (pronounced ūa-ayernerk) is an ancient ritual in which an individual dresses in a mask and possibly a woman’s clothing and sings, drums, and dances for the entertainment of the tribe. The dance drama also served to reinforce traditional Inuit values and teach the young lessons about survival and morality. It was formerly part of the Aasivik, a summer gathering of distant tribes that resolved important social issues.

This mask originates with the Kalaallit Inuit, the largest indigenous group on the massive island of Greenland and inhabitants of its western portion. Today, the Tunumiit Inuit of eastern Greenland are the most active practitioners of Uaajeerneq, although the traditional masquerade is increasingly replaced by less expensive face painting.

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

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: Hopi Hon Katsina
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New Mexico
ETHNICITY: Hopi
DESCRIPTION: Hon (Bear) Katsina Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Katsina
FUNCTION: adult initiation; agriculture; celebration; social control; spirit invocation
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: string; wood; feathers; natural pigment

Among the Puebloan nations of the southwest United States, the Hopi people of Arizona and New Mexico are known for their katsina (also spelled kachina) dolls, given to children to help them recognize the spirits that will protect and benefit the Hopi people. These dolls represent masked dancers who have assumed the form of spirits and gods, dancing at ceremonies from the winter solstice (December) to just after the summer solstice (July). The ceremonies especially focus on the planting season and ensuring a fruitful crop.  The katsina dancers perform important religious and social roles in purifying the village, policing Hopi behavior, and in some cases entertaining the audience.  They are also used in adult initiation ceremonies for boys.

Hopi society is infused with religion, in which the katsinam play a major role during half the year.  There are numerous dances and ceremonies involving the katsinam between February and August, including Soyalwimi (winter solstice) and the Powamuya (Bean Ceremony) in February. Some of these ceremonies are complex, involving night visits by the katsinam to regulate village conduct, adult initiation of boys between 10 and 15 years into the Katsina Society, and dances during the daytime to increase the fertility of the crops and wildlife upon which the Hopi depend.

Hopi masks are almost always helmet shaped and are considered sacred objects belonging to the tribe rather than individual dancers.  This mask is a hon, representing the bear, and was made to fit a young dancer, probably newly initiated into the Katsina society.  There are many different animal katsinam, and these typically dance singly or in a group during the summer day dances.

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TITLE: Fang Ngil Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Gabon
ETHNICITY: Fang
DESCRIPTION: Ngil Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Purification; Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

The Fang people inhabit Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon and Cameroon and are divided between followers of their traditional animist  religion, byeri, and the Catholicism of their French colonizers. The Ngil Secret Society is responsible for social control by assembling in the night to punish sorcerers and purify the village of evil. The Society’s masks are made to resemble the powerful gorilla, and a full suit of raffia fiber is worn to enhance the effect of furriness. This mask is unusual in its relatively serene expression and the inclusion of a second ape atop the head.

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TITLE: Bamileke Kuosi Society Mask
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Cameroon
ETHNICITY: Bamileke
DESCRIPTION: Mbap Mgteng Elephant Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kuosi Society
AGE: ca. 1970s-1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: glass beads; cotton wadding; thread

The Bamileke people of the Cameroon grasslands are closely related to their neighbors, the Babanki and Bamoun peoples, and have similar artistic styles. The Bamileke society is highly stratified by lineage, with certain royal lineages exclusively entitled to wear certain masks.  Lineage masks may represent persons, such as the kam, ngoin, or animals, and are used principally at funerals and annual festivals for the harvesting of crops. The cloth elephant mask, known as mbap mgteng, depicts an animal of great power on the African plains. Its use is reserved for members of the elite Kuosi Society, who assist the fon (king) in maintaining social control.

Beads were historically imported from the Europeans and very costly, and so their use in a mask represents high status.  The more richly beaded the mask, the higher the wearer’s status.

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TITLE: Kwele Ekuk
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: 2015
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: Kwele Antelope
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kwele
DESCRIPTION: Antelope Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
AGE: 1990s
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 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 is more naturalistic than most Kwele antelope masks. More commonly, the masks are highly abstract, flat (plank-shaped), and with slit eyes.

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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: brass sheet; nails; cowrie shells; dyed 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 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, like 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.

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