TITLE: Pende Giphogo (Kipoko) Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
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
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.


TITLE: Iroquois Corn Husk Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
DESCRIPTION: Corn Husk (Bushy Head) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Healing; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: braided corn husks

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).


TITLE: Kwele Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
DESCRIPTION: Ekuk Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Be’ete Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
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.


TITLE: Asmat Det
TYPE: body mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Irian Jaya, Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: funeral; spirit invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment; wood; animal horn; sago leaves

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. The Asmat celebrate a periodic feast, a series of rituals culminating when dead ancestors, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks like this one (Det), return to visit the village.

The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask (Bi) depicting a legendary orphan and entertains the village with comical antics.  The second type of mask, the Det, portrays the dead ancestor. Each mask of this type represents a specific individual, such as a deceased family member or illustrious ancestor.  At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for the realm of the ancestors (Safan).

Normally, this mask would have a long fringe of dried sago leaves along the sleeves and skirt, but most of this has been lost with time.


TITLE: Lewa Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Schouten Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Austronesian)
MAKER: Unknown maker on Vokeo Island
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
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.


TITLE: Kwakwaka’wakw Rabbit
TYPE: face mask
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Kwakwaka’wakw
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).


TITLE: Makonde Lipiko Mask
TYPE: crest mask
COUNTRY: Tanzania
MAKER: Unknown
USE: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
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).


TITLE: Piaroa Kohue Mask
TYPE: face mask
SUBREGION: Orinoco River Basin
DESCRIPTION: Kohue (Vampire Bat) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Warime Ritual
AGE: 1980s
OTHER MATERIALS: wicker; bark cloth; beeswax; pigment; dried grass

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 represents an animal spirit, specifically the Kohue (vampire bat).

Masqueraders must receive religious instruction from a shaman beforehand, and his incantation is accompanied by music on traditional instruments.


TITLE: Wayang Wong Ravana
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
MAKER: Ida Made Sutiarka, Singapadu (1974- )
CEREMONY: Wayang Wong
AGE: 2018
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: leather; cotton; oil-based paint; gilded silver jewelry; rhinestones; mirrors; gold leaf; string

The Wayang Wong dance drama retells parts of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These epics revolve around the god Rama and his battle with the demon king Ravana, who has abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. In the end, Rama retrieves her with the help of the wily monkey god, Hanuman.  This mask represents the antihero Ravana, whose nature is somewhat ambiguous in Hindu lore. On one hand, he is generally thought to have been a capable king. On the other, his evil deeds doom him to retribution at the hands of Rama and his allies.

For more on Balinese masks, see Judy Slattum, Masks of Bali: Spirits of an Ancient Drama (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992).

Video of a Wayang Wong performance in Bali, Indonesia.


TITLE: Chokwe Mwana Pwo
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
DESCRIPTION: Mwana Pwo (Young Woman) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. late 1970s
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton netting

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 mwana pwo (young woman) mask invokes the spirit of a female ancestor in her most beautiful youth. The dark skin, decorative forehead and cheek scars, high forehead, narrow nose, and filed teeth represent the idealized Chokwe female. The mwana pwo is mostly danced for purposes for entertainment at festivals, but it is thought to increase the fertility of the women who attend.