TITLE: Baule Gbagba
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
ETHNICITY: Baule
DESCRIPTION: Gbagba Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mblo Dance Drama
AGE: 1988
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: lacquer

The Baule Mblo ceremony combines dramatic scenes and individual dances and is possibly the most ancient Baule masking tradition. The gbagba dancer participating in Mblo wears a mask flatteringly portraying a respected member of the community and skilled dancer, usually (as here) female. The person portrayed is expected to accompany the masquerader in dance. The dark and shining skin indicates health. The intricately carved and elaborate hairstyle, teeth filed to sharp points, and traditional facial scarification represent the Baule version of ideal beauty. The dance is performed to the music of drummers and singers. To avoid insulting the person portrayed, only the most practiced dancers may wear a gbagba, and gbagba masks are stored out of sight when not in use.

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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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TITLE: Bamileke Buffalo
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Cameroon
ETHNICITY: Bamileke
DESCRIPTION: Buffalo Crest
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Status
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay

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 harvest festivals. The kam mask is reserved for royalty and is the highest ranking mask, with ngoin, his wife, also highly ranked. Animal masks (other than the elephant) like this one are open to non-royal lineages to use.

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TITLE: Bamileke Helmet Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Cameroon
ETHNICITY: Bamileke
DESCRIPTION: Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Status
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: none

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 harvest festivals. The kam mask is reserved for royalty and is the highest ranking mask, with ngoin, his wife, also highly ranked. Helmet masks like this one are open to non-royal lineages to use.

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TITLE: Ibibio Ekpo Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Eket (Ibibio)
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ekpo Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; pigment

The Ibibio inhabit Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Eket are a subgroup of the Ibibio known for their highly cultivated artistic style. Masks are used by the Ekpo (leopard) Society to protect and purify the village through invocation of the Ekpo bush spirit. Membership in the society is limited to men, and during masked dances for the purification and protection of the village, women are not allowed to touch the dancers. Membership at higher ranks in the Society requires considerable wealth and confers high social status.

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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: 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: 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: Bamileke Monkey
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Cameroon
ETHNICITY: Bamileke
DESCRIPTION: Monkey Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Status
AGE: 1970s-1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

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 harvest festivals. The kam mask is reserved for royalty and is the highest ranking mask, with ngoin, his wife, also highly ranked. Animal masks like this one are open to non-royal lineages to use, except for the exalted elephant mask.

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TITLE: Bamileke Kam Crest
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Cameroon
ETHNICITY: Bamileke
DESCRIPTION: Kam
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Status
AGE: 1980
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: glass beads; adhesive; yarn

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 kam mask is reserved for royalty and is the highest ranking mask, with ngoin, his wife (whose mask is similar but in a helmet shape), also highly ranked.

Bamileke masks are typically made of carved wood, sometimes with white kaolin clay coloring. This one is assiduously beaded, which indicates the high status of the wearer, as beads and brass are materials reserved to chiefs and their kin.

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