African Masks The following is a general over view of African Masks. If you are interested in collecting African mask from galleries or even primary sources we are going to establish some links which take you to places where masks are for sale. Stay with site as it progresses and links will be established to useful African Masks contacts.
Those of you who are thinking of a collecting trip to Africa may well find following site useful. There are still places in Africa where genuine old masks can be bought, generally through dealers. Also watch out for fakes as they do abound. Remember buy things you like as investment can go up as well as down. If you like that carving or mask then value is not as important. The link is African-Vacations.com, see Carvings page link.
The African masks of this area are well documented by Ladislas Segy in Masks of Black Africa. Much of following section on African Masks is influenced by his work.
The African masking traditions of this part of World are extremely fertile and varied. The traditions supporting masks are generally associated with spirits of ancestors, rites of passage, fertility and initiation ceremonies. Dance is generally involved in use of masks. Segy lists following types of ritual:-
Rituals of cosmology, myth and mythological heroes or animals Fertility rites Rituals for increase Agricultural festivals Rituals for rites of passage Ancestor cults Initiations including secret societies
Masks can be used for different ceremonies often having multiple purposes. The size and style of masks are diverse, depicting animals, human faces and more abstract styles in sizes from a few centimetres to 4.5 metres in case of Dogon Iminana ( mother mask ). With only a few exceptions masks are all part of a full costume and not just an isolated piece of decoration.. Segy notes:-
Face coverings Helmet masks Headdresses Masks with prominent breasts Amulets Insignia of grade Crowns of bead work
Wood The major material was wood due to large forest and range of species available. The choosing of a tree from which to make a mask was not as we might do today, find one and chop it down. Rather carver would seek help of a diviner and undergo a purification ceremony and when first blow was struck he would drink some of sap in order to form a brotherhood with tree?s spirit. Mask would be carved from one piece of wood with nothing jointed, with some of masks this created severe technical difficulties when early carvers only had simple tools. Usually green timber was used as this was easier to cut. Certain varieties would be used for some special masks, but in general softer woods were used
Ivory was used by Warega and Benin. The ivory was property of Benin kings (Oba) and they were only ones to wear ivory as a mark of office. The carving of Warega was not as refined but has a strong impact.
Brass was used by Benin, Senufo and Ashanti.
Other Materials Knitted materials were used as were beadwork, basketry and fabrics. Additional materials included :- shells, beads, twigs, bark, teeth, hair, beaten or repousse metal, vegetable fibres and skin, to mention a few.
West Africa The masks of this area are well documented by Ladislas Segy in Masks of Black Africa. His book lists following areas:-