TITLE: Nuu-Chah-Nulth Killer Whale
TYPE: 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
MAKER: Buddy George
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: Lega Muminia Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Democratic Republic of
ETHNICITY: Lega
DESCRIPTION: Muminia Mask
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: Convite Mask (Child’s)
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Guatemala
SUBREGION: Unknown
ETHNICITY: Mayan
DESCRIPTION: Convite Mask for a Child
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Baile de los Convites
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Baile de los Convites (Dance of the Invited) is a ceremony that dates to the Spanish colonial period, but is probably the most mutable of all Guatemalan dances. The dance is performed on the annual holiday in honor of a town’s patron saint, and its name probably derives from the fact that celebrants from surrounding villages were invited to participate in larger towns.  It is unclear why masks and costumes became part of the dance, but the characters began as crude, handmade masks, and rapidly evolved to mimic characters from popular culture, including television, motion pictures, and video games.  Today, both mass-produced costumes and handmade costumes are used, often involving a considerable investment.  In some places, these dances are thinly-veiled status rituals—the more impressive the costume, the greater the credit for the dancer.

In the dance, captains (capitanos) organize the dancers into rows, and they dance in various configurations to the music of a marimba band.  Unlike in other Guatemalan dances, there is no plot or story.  This mask was made for and used by a child, and is made to resemble the mouse Jerry from the popular cartoon television series Tom & Jerry, which was broadcast from 1940 until 1967.

For more on Guatemalan masks, see Jim Pieper, Guatemala’s Masks and Drama (University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

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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: 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: Bozo Sogo Kun
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bozo
DESCRIPTION: Sogo Kun Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Social Status
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; dyed cloth; plant fiber; hardware

The Bozo people of Mali inhabit the area along the Niger River and live predominantly by fishing. Many have been converted to Islam, but they nonetheless maintain animist beliefs and masking traditions today. Unlike other west and central African peoples, however, the Bozo do not use masks for important spiritual functions so much as for entertainment.  Masks and associated puppets (sometimes, the two are combined) entertain the village and raise the dancer’s social status through demonstrations of skill in mask making and dancing.

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TITLE: Kuba Lele Mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
SUBREGION: Kasai River
ETHNICITY: Lele (Kuba)
DESCRIPTION: Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Funeral; Secret Society; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cotton cloth; cowrie shells; beads

The Lele people are a subgroup of the Kuba ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of Congo, inhabiting the Kasai River basin. They dance masked on many occasions, including festivals celebrating the mythical founding of the people and funerals of important individuals.  Lele masks have affinities with those of the Kuba people more generally, but they have a distinctive flattened face.  Cowrie shells and glass beads were valuable trade goods and their use denotes wealth and status.

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TITLE: Atoni Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: West Timor
ETHNICITY: Atoni
DESCRIPTION: Handheld mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: Status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: polished hardwood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Atoni people make up the largest ethnic group on the island of Timor, which is politically divided between independent Timor-Leste to the east and Indonesian West Timor. The Atoni use two kinds of masks.  Ancestor masks are used for funerals, adult initiation, war victory celebrations, and other ceremonies commemorating major social events. Handheld masks like this one are used for a quite different purpose. It is believed that these masks were used for a socially acceptable form of stealing when a villager encountered hardship. By covering his face with a mask, the mask takes the blame for the theft and the person wearing it is exonerated. The mask thus helps the villager maintain “face,” as it were.

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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: Kuba Mukenga Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
SUBREGION: Western Kasai
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Mukenga Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Funeral; Secret Society; Status
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; glass beads; cowrie shells; leopard fur; thread; plant fiber; metal plating

The Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have several masks associated with royalty. The mukenga mask is associated with the highest status of the Babende initiation society through its invocation of the most powerful forest animals, the leopard and the elephant (note its trunk-like crest). Cowrie shells and glass beads were valuable trade goods and their use denotes wealth and status.

Mukenga masks are danced at funerals of titled nobility by members of the mukenga society. Because the mukenga masquerader has no vision (the helmet mask has no eye holes), attendants assist him to remain within the dance area. The mukenga dancer represents an important person visiting the village to pay respects to the deceased.

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