TITLE: Dogon Satimbe Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Dogon
DESCRIPTION: Satimbe mask
CATALOG ID: AFML005
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Dama
FUNCTION: Funeral
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: ebony wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; glass beads; cowrie shells; hair; cotton string; 1919 British West Africa penny; bronze bell

The Dogon people of Mali use a tremendous variety of masks, most of which center around funeral rites. Traditionally, the Awa Society controlled the use of masks. This mask represents Yayemme, the first woman to discover the mystical use of masks, and Yasigi, a female character from Dogon creation myths who served beer at the first Dogon sigi celebration.  It is used in funerals to usher the spirit of the dead from the village back to its proper place in the bush.

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TITLE: Kumu Nsembu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kumu
DESCRIPTION: Nsembu Nkunda Society Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD019
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Adult Initiation; Divination
AGE: 1980s-1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Kumu or Komo people inhabit the Ituri rainforests in the eastern part of Congo.  They are agriculturalists with animist traditions.

A culturally important ritual for the Kumu people is the circumcision of boys as they enter adulthood.  The nsembu mask is used exclusively by members of the Nkunda Secret Society for the purposes of adult initiation. They also use the mask for divination under the effects of hallucinogens.  The mask itself represents the diviner’s spirit.  Kumu masks are somewhat rare, but the known examples tend to have wide open eyes and mouths, frequently with sharp teeth.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mami Wata Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Ogoni Mami Wata face mask
CATALOG ID: AFNG002
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.

Masks are used for funeral celebrations and to celebrate the harvesting of yams.  The Mami Wata represented here is a water goddess important to many northwest African cultures. She is sometimes represented by a mermaid but is nearly always surrounded by snakes, as here.

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TITLE: Nafana Bedu Mask
TYPE: plank mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Nafana
DESCRIPTION: Bedu Association Male Plank Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCI022
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Purification; Celebration; Funereal; Agriculture
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Nafana people of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have developed a Bedu Secret Society only in the last century. It is probably a successor to the Sakrobundi Secret Society banned by the British due to the Society’s function of violently punishing supposed sorcerers.  The Bedu society is charged with the less malignant function of village purification during a month-long new year’s celebration annually, as well as during harvest festivals and funerals.  The bedu itself represents a mythical ox-like beast that, in Nafana myth, cured a sick child and later disappeared into the bush.  Although these masks are worn over the face, their exceptional size requires them to be made of relatively light wood.

Bedu masks come in both genders, with the male masks (such as this one) having horns, and the female having a circle or disc on top. Most such masks of either gender are painted in kaolin clay with abstract geometrical patterns, checker marks and jagged fins being favored.  Sometimes red, blue, or black pigments are used as well.

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TITLE: Teke Kidumu Mask
TYPE: plank mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Teke
DESCRIPTION: Teke Kidumu Society plank mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD021
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society
AGE: 2000-2005
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Teke people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) established a kingdom in the 8th century on the Zaire River, ruled by a monarch whose authority is primarily spiritual. Political power is exercised by a structure of regional and village clan chiefs. Chiefs and priests, always men, belong to Mungala Society.

The Kidumu Secret Society, composed solely of adult men, plays a central role in adult initiation rituals, funerals and other major village events.  In the northwest region of their territory, a dancer from the Kidumu Society wears an abstract plank mask of the kind shown here, with a costume of raffia fiber and feathers to hide the body. The mask is associated with a bush spirit known as “Nkita.” Representing the spirit, the masquerader enters the village from the forest and dances an energetic cartwheeling dance alone to music rather than in a group before retiring again to the forest.

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TITLE: Songye Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Songye
DESCRIPTION: Bambudye Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD017
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Healing; Purification; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin

The Songye people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) are closely related to the Luba people of the same region.  Both use a variety of face masks for social control and village purification.  The Songye were formerly a warlike people and used their masks to frighten enemies, as well as to frighten away evil spirits from the village or from a sick individual plagued by them.  The masks are danced by secret societies to protect the village and are usually worn with a full body costume of raffia.  Songye masks are typically characterized by striations carved into the face, representing the facial scarification used by Songye warriors.

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TITLE: Bwa Owl Mask
TYPE: plank mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
ETHNICITY: Bwa
DESCRIPTION: Owl spirit plank mask
CATALOG ID: AFBF005
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Initiation, Funeral, Agriculture
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin

Among the southern Bwa people, masks typically represent bush spirits that the wearer invokes for the benefit of his community, such as the hawk, crocodile or buffalo.  Bwa masks, in common with the neighboring Gurunsi and Nuna people, are characterized by highly geometric designs and dichromatic patterns of alternating dark wood and white kaolin clay.  Such masks are commissioned and owned by clans for bringing blessings to the village during funerals and the planting and harvesting of crops.  It may also be used during adult initiation rituals.  The mask is worn by a skilled dancer who secures it over his face by biting down on a rope on the mask’s back.  His body is concealed by a bushy costume of raffia fiber, traditionally dyed red or black, but now also seen in other dyes.  Accompanied by musicians playing flutes and drums and women singing songs, the masquerader dances rapidly, imitating the behavior of a spirit.  The use of wood masks is relatively recent among the Bwa, who traditionally used plant fibers and leaves instead.

This specific mask represents the owl, a bird considered to have great mystical power by the Bwa people.  The owl eyes appear on other animal spirit masks as well due to the owl’s exceptional importance to Bwa mythology.

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