TITLE: Makonde Lipiko Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Tanzania
ETHNICITY: Makonde
DESCRIPTION: Lipiko Crest Mask of a Colonial
CATALOG ID: AFTZ002
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Mapiko
USE: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
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).

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TITLE: Ekoi Ekpo Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Ekpo Society Ancestor Mask
CATALOG ID: AFNG001
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ikem Ceremony
FUNCTION: Secret Society; Funeral
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; kaolin clay; wicker

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in antelope leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Ancestor spirit masks such as these are used by the Ekpo Society, are worn at funerals and other secret society rituals. In the rituals, ceremonial plays known as Ikem (“sharing one heart and mind”) are performed to venerate the ancestors.  The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head and adorned with raffia fiber to hide the dancer’s face and body.

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TITLE: Chokwe Mwana Pwo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Congo, Dem. Rep. of
ETHNICITY: Chokwe
DESCRIPTION: Mwana Pwo (Young Woman) Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD010
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. late 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
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.

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TITLE: Ogoni Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ogoni
DESCRIPTION: Articulated mask of a female spirit
CATALOG ID: AFNG009
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin clay; plant fiber; natural pigment

The Ogoni people have managed to maintain much of their precolonial culture, including their masquerading traditions.  Masks are used by the Ogoni for many purposes. Some are reserved for members of secret societies having varying social ranks.  Others are mainly for entertainment. This mask has an articulated jaw to make the mask look like it is talking while being danced. It would be used in a ritual for initiation of girls into adulthood by a secret society.

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TITLE: Ijo Stingray Crest Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
SUBREGION: southeast
ETHNICITY: Ijo
DESCRIPTION: Stingray Water Spirit Crest Mask
CATALOG ID: AFNG003
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: cane; pigment

Among the animistic Ijo (also known as Ijaw) people of southeastern Nigeria, both land and water spirits pervade the world. The Ijo are a large ethnic group comprised of 12 to 15 million persons. They are primarily fishers and farmers. The Ijo consider water spirits in particular benevolent to humans, and the Ijo have festivals celebrating and invoking the beneficence of many individual spirits, including the hippopotamus, crocodile, swordfish, and python. This mask is worn atop the head and represents a stingray.

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TITLE: Chamba Buffalo Crest
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Chamba
DESCRIPTION: Buffalo Crest Mask
CATALOG ID: AFNG007
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Vara Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Funeral; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation; Status
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment

The Chamba inhabit the region south of the Benue River in Nigeria and Cameroon.  They number in the range of 20,000 persons. Their religious beliefs are animistic, with a strong component of ancestor worship. Their masks, danced by the Vara Society at important events such as adult initiations for boys (circumcision ceremonies), important funerals, and the appointment of a chief, usually take the form of a buffalo with a wide open mouth, symbolizing the mythical origin of the Chamba people. They are worn atop the head with a raffia fiber suit covering the face and body. According to legend, the first Chamba originated with a magical buffalo woman who removed her animal skin to bathe in a lake. A young man saw her and hid her animal skin, and they married, producing the first Chamba people. The masks can be female (red colored) or male (black colored).

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TITLE: Kuba Pwoom Itok
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Kuba
DESCRIPTION: Pwoom Itok Mask
CATALOG ID: AFCD004
MAKER: Unknown maker in the Kasai River region
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Status
AGE: 1950s-1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Kuba people inhabit the area south of the Kasai River.  Although the Kuba have some two dozen mask types, those still in use today are mostly the three royal masks, whose use is reserved to those given permission by the quasi-divine king (nyimi). These are danced mainly as a form of entertainment reinforcing the status of the royalty and at chiefly funerals.  The adult initiation (mukanda) masks are now rarely used in Kuba society.

What the pwoom itok mask represents remains a matter of some speculation, but it may have originally meant to depict a wise elder. The mask is used at the adult initiation rituals of boys. It would be worn with a cane, cloth, and feather headdress, and a cloth suit covered in cowrie shells to indicate high rank.

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TITLE: Dogon Nommo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Dogon
DESCRIPTION: Nommo (circumcision) mask with seated figure on head
CATALOG ID: AFML003
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Circumcision
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

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 nommo mask would have been used in the adult initiation ritual for boys between the ages of 9 and 12, at their circumcision. During the ritual, members of the Awa Society wear masks such as this one, representing important ancestors.

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TITLE: Bozo Fish Puppet Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Mali
ETHNICITY: Bozo
DESCRIPTION: Sogo Ba yellow fish puppet crest mask
CATALOG ID: AFML007
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Sogo Ba
FUNCTION: Entertainment; Social Status
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cloth; 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. The Sogo Ba ceremony is a masquerade of puppets danced by groups of young men who tell stories to music for the education and entertainment of the public. Fish puppet masks are especially popular with the Bozo, because fishing is crucial to the Bozo economy.

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TITLE: Ekoi Antelope Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Nigeria
ETHNICITY: Ekoi
DESCRIPTION: Antelope Helmet Mask
CATALOG ID: AFNG013
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Obassinjom Society
FUNCTION: Protection/Purification; Secret Society
AGE: 1990s
MAIN MATERIALS: wood; antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; brass tacks; cane; jute rope; kaolin clay

The Ekoi people, also known as the Ejagham, inhabit the extreme southeastern region of Nigeria and parts of Cameroon. They are a hunting and farming people who live in scattered communities. Each community has a Ngbe or Ekpo (Leopard) Society that helps coordinate political and social events.

Most Ekoi masks take the form of a helmet or crest that sits atop the head. Unlike the masks of other African peoples, Ekoi masks are covered in leather. In the distant past, the skin of killed slaves was used, but now antelope leather is common. Animal masks such as these are used by the Obassinjom Society, dedicated to detecting and combating witchcraft and sorcery. The mask is fixed to the dancer’s head, adorned with feathers, and danced in a long, blue cloak adorned with magical charms.

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