TITLE: Waggis Carnival Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Switzerland
SUBREGION: Basel
ETHNICITY: Swiss
DESCRIPTION: Waggis (Alsation) Carnival Helmet Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasnacht (Carnival)
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; plastic hair; wool hat

Fasnacht is what the Tyrolean Swiss call Carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

In Basel, Switzerland, masks are almost all made of paper maché and take a helmet form. Armies of costumed clowns, musicians, and dancers, called cliques, parade around town in uniform mask styles for 72 nearly continuous hours on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. The paraders must wear their Larven (masks) throughout the parade and are expected never to remove the mask in order to identify themselves.  They throw confetti at crowd members with such proliferation that it blankets the streets.

Although there is a great deal of innovation and creativity in mask styles, there are certain styles that tend to reappear annually. This mask, known as Waggis, represents a big-nosed, frizzy-haired clown, who wears wooden clogs, a blue shirt, and a red neckerchief. He is a prankster who parodies the Alsatian farmers who formerly came to Basel market days to sell their produce (Waggis literally means a person from Alsace in Basel dialect). It was worn for several decades and retired after the 2010 parade.

Other common characters include the Alti Dante (old aunt), Dummbeeter (trumpetist) and Pierrot (a sad clown from the late Italian Commedia dell’Arte, known for his white and black makeup).

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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
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: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Nafana
DESCRIPTION: Male Bedu Association Male Plank Mask
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: Dayak Demon Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Borneo
ETHNICITY: Dayak
DESCRIPTION: Dayak Demon Bukong
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Unknown
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Purification
AGE: 1880s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

Not much is known about the masked ceremonies of the South Kalimantan region of Borneo. This mask dates to the late 19th century and represents a demon.  Stylistically, it shows traces of Hindu influence from Javanese settlers, transmitted to the settlers from Indian traders in previous centuries.  Such masks were most probably used to drive away evil spirits from the village during important ceremonies, such as funerals, and from crop fields.

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TITLE: Teke Kidumu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Teke
DESCRIPTION: Teke Kidumu Society Plank Mask
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: Kyōgen Ko-Tengu
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Tengu (Celestial Dog) Kyōgen Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyōgen Theatre
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: laquer; paint; bronze sheet

The tengu is a legendary being very important to Japanese mythology, found in both folk tales and Shinto and Buddhist religious doctrines. Despite the reference to dog in the creature’s name (“celestial dog”) and origin, it is also associated with a predatory bird. The role of the tengu is ambiguous, with some sources treating it as a demon and others as a protective demi-god. Its form, too, varies between that of a large bird of prey and a brightly-colored human, nearly always with an exceptionally long nose.

The tengu is a popular masked character in Kyōgen theatre as well. Kyōgen is a traditional form of Japanese comic theatre, usually performed in village celebrations or as interludes between traditional Noh dramas. Kyōgen is performed by both masked and unmasked characters, whose role is defined in each traditional play. The actors are accompanied by flute, drum and gong music, but Kyōgen emphasizes dialogue and action over song or dance. In these plays, the tengu typically plays the role of trouble-maker (sometimes dupe) or mystical protector.


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Elderly Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; dyed polyester fabric

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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TITLE: Songye Face Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
ETHNICITY: Songye
DESCRIPTION: Bambudye Mask
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: Scheller Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Austria
ETHNICITY: Tyrolean
DESCRIPTION: Scheller Fasching Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Fasching (Carnival)
AGE: 1870s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Fasching is the Tyrolean carnival.  In many towns in Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy, local folk don elaborate masks and costumes to parade through the town.  Different towns have variations on the parade, such as the Schemenlaufen of Imst, the Schellerlaufen of Nassereith, and the Muller and Matschgerer of Innsbruck, Austria.

The characters include young and old personalities alike. This mask represents the Scheller, a mature man who wears heavy cowbells on his hips and rings them as he walks.  The costumes feature ribbons, mirrors, and beads to symbolize vanity, materialism, and wickedness.

For more on traditional Tyrolean folk masks, see Claus Hansmann, Masken Schemen Larven: Volksmasken der Aplenländer (Munich: Verlag F. Bruckmann, 1959).

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TITLE: Cherokee Bison Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: North Carolina
ETHNICITY: Cherokee
DESCRIPTION: Booger mask in the form of a bison
MAKER: Allen Long (1917-1983), Cherokee, North Carolina
CEREMONY: Booger Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

In the Eastern Cherokee Nation, the booger (tsu’nigadu’li) dance forms an important part of the winter celebration to discourage evil spirits from disrupting the coming growing season. The boogers themselves represent the evil spirits, and they traditionally portrayed grotesque faces seeking to fight, chase women, and create general havoc. Following colonization, the booger dancers focused their misdeeds especially on satirizing the insolence, foolishness, and lust of European colonists toward the Cherokee women.

Booger masks could be made of wood, gourds, or carved wasp nests.  This specific mask was made by a famed carver, Allen Long.

For more on Cherokee masked dance, see Frank G. Speck & Leonard Broom, Cherokee Dance and Drama (University of Oklahoma Press 1951).

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