TITLE: Topeng Demung
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Patih Demung
MAKER: Ida Ketut Berati, Singapadu
CEREMONY: Topeng Dance Drama
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: colored glass rhinestones; goat leather and hair; gold-plated silver ornaments; paint; string; rubber band

The Topeng dance drama is an important traditional entertainment and education on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Its origin can be traced to the oral history of the Balinese people and venerable palm-leaf written histories, influenced by Hinduism imported from India. The dance may have originated as early as 840 CE. The stories depicted in this drama, called Babad Dalem, tell a political history of the islands of Bali and Java as written by the court poets of the regional kings.

This specific mask represents a character known as Patih Demung. It rarely appears in a Topeng dance drama and represents a harebrained court official. It was carved and painted by the master craftsman I. Ketut Berati.

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

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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: brass sheet; nails; cowrie shells; dyed 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 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, like 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.

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TITLE: Barong Macan
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Bali
ETHNICITY: Balinese
DESCRIPTION: Barong Macan
MAKER: Ida Wayan Tangguh, Singapadu (1935-2016)
CEREMONY: Barong Dance; Japatuan; Basur
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: pule wood
OTHER MATERIALS: glass rhinestones; mirrors; buffalo leather; paint; gilding; human hair; gold-plated silver ornaments; brass bells

Barong masks are some of the most important cultural artifacts in Bali.  The Barong is a mythical beast that purifies and protects the village. The mask itself is a sacred object of worship and usually kept in a temple. Barong masks are taken out to perform dances and ceremonies on major holidays, most notably the Kunti Sraya, or Barong Dance. That dance recreates a contest between good (represented by the Barong and its followers) and evil (represented by the goddess of death, Rangda, and her followers).

Barongs come in many types, depending on the type of animal represented.  Barongs may take the form of a boar, bull or deer, for example. This mask, the barong macan, represents a tiger, the most fearsome animal in Indonesia. The macan maintains balance between the physical and spiritual worlds, and acts as a potent protector against the harmful influence of ghosts on the village.

This specific barong macan was the last one made by the master craftsman, I. Wayan Tangguh of Singapadu, before he died.

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


Video of a Barong Ceremony in Bali, Indonesia, 2018.

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TITLE: Azteca Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Veracruz
ETHNICITY: Nahua
DESCRIPTION: Azteca (Aztec warrior)
MAKER: Unknown maker in Cruz de Ataque
CEREMONY: Danza de la Conquista; Carnival
AGE: ca. 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; hardware; plant fiber

The Danza de la Conquista, or Dance of the Conquest, is a traditional celebration in many parts of Mexico.  The dance takes two forms. One retells the conquest of Spain by the Spanish monarchy from the Moors, finally achieved in 1492 and properly called the Reconquista. The other retells the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. This mask belongs to the second story. It represents a Spaniard coming into contact with his Aztec enemy.  The Azteca mask is also worn during Carnival.

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TITLE: Kran Gla Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Kran (Dan)
DESCRIPTION: Gla Society Spider Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Funeral Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: metal tacks; kaolin clay

The Kran ethnic subgroup of the Dan people, and are also known as the We or Guere, living primarily in the Côte d’Ivoire.  The Gla secret society of the Kran people are charged with maintaining social control, including judicial functions, as well as officiating at harvest ceremonies and funerals.  They use “male” masks such as these to confer authority on the wearer in the performance of his important community functions.

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TITLE: Guro Gu Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Guro
DESCRIPTION: Gu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Entertainment; Funeral
AGE: ca. 2010
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Guro gu mask represents a beautiful young woman. It forms part of the trio of sacred masks with the zamble and zaouli. In the past, gu was the wife of zamble, but in modern rituals she is represented as the wife of his brother, zaouli. All three masks are cult objects to which sacrifices are periodically made to bring prosperity to the family that owns them and to drive away evil spirits.  They are danced for celebrations and as entertainment, and also at funerals and to honor ancestors.

This mask was made for the tourist trade, but it displays the exceptional skill and artistry typical of guro master carvers. The elaborate hair style is an important element of the gu‘s appeal.

For more on Guro masking traditions, see Eberhard Fischer, Guro (Prestel, 2008).

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TITLE: Bwa Nwantantay
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Burkina Faso
ETHNICITY: Bwa
DESCRIPTION: Nwantantay Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Adult Initiation; Agricultural; Funeral
AGE: ca. 1990s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Bwa people inhabit the Black Volta River region of Burkina Faso. Their masks are used by secret societies in adult initiation rituals, to celebrate important agricultural events, and to escort the souls of the dead to the next world. Bwa masks have a distinctive look, with geometric patterns predominating, and large concentric circles for eyes, to represent the vigilance of the spirit represented by the mask (reminiscent of the owl). The geometric striations are symbolic representations of important abstract moral principles.

Bwa plank masks such as this one are frequently extraordinarily large and heavy. This mask is nearly six feet (1.8 meters) tall. The masquerader typically wears a suit of thick raffia fiber, covering the entire body in a bushy heap.  Unlike a secret society masks, the Bwa masks are owned by specific families and can be danced by anyone.

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TITLE: Yoruba Gelede Mask
TYPE: crest mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Benin
ETHNICITY: Yoruba
DESCRIPTION: Gelede Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Gelede Society
AGE: ca. 1990s-2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: dyed cotton cloth; string; oil-based paint

The highly populous Yoruba people inhabit much of Nigeria and parts of Benin. The Gelede Society originates in cultural myths about Yemoja, the mother of all living things, who could not conceive children until she learned a dance with a wooden image on her head. The Gelede is named after Yemoja’s chubby daughter, and the dance therefore has a close connection with fertility rites. Nonetheless, the Gelede ceremony performs diverse functions in Yoruba society, including to pray for rain, purify the village of disease, to enlist spiritual help in wartime, and to honor the dead.

This mask is an example of a work made for sale to the tourist market.  It has been lightly but artificially aged to appear older. Nonetheless, the care and artistry of the mask make it suitable for ceremonial use. The puppet on the head has strings that pass through the wooden plank on which it sits, allowing the wearer to move his arms about by pulling the strings.  Most Gelede masks are static, but animated masks sometimes make an appearance, especially in the Efe dance, which satirizes and ridicules immoral behavior.

For more on the Gelede ceremony, see Babatunde Lawal’s incomparable monograph, The Gelede Spectacle (University of Washington Press, 1996).

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TITLE: Haida Dogfish
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: Canada
SUBREGION: British Columbia
ETHNICITY: Haida
DESCRIPTION: Dogfish Mask
MAKER: Dalbert Weir
CEREMONY: Potlatch
AGE: 2007
MAIN MATERIAL: cedar wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

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 dogfish, a small relative of the shark that is an important totem for the Haida people.  The Haida believe that they had a female ancestor who could transform herself into a dogfish to experience the undersea world.

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: Busójárás Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Hungary
SUBREGION: Mohács
ETHNICITY: Šokci
DESCRIPTION: Busó
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Busójárás (Farsang)
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: ram horns; plant fiber; string; pigment

Busójárás is the Hungarian festival held annually in Mohács to celebrate the end of winter. Although the event has a pre-Christian origin as a ritual to frighten away the winter, it has been adapted to coincide with Christian ideology and timed to end with Carnival (Farsang). Masqueraders parade in devil masks of the kind shown here, wearing goat-skin suits and carrying staves or playing traditional folk music.

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