A Mystery Mask

Q:  I emailed you yesterday about a mask I had bought which appeared to be partially covered in gold foil. Just to say that I took it to a jeweler today and he confirmed it is indeed gold! I bought the mask together with a sword which may or may not be from the same tribe. The sword was made by the Fang tribe who live in Gabon and Cameroon.  George, 1245

A:  I can’t identify this mask. Based on the little you have told me, I would guess it is West African. Then there is the fact it does not look like a made-for-the-market fake. Let’s hope that some of our readers can help.


  • Bob Ibold

    George reacted quickly with this email message…
    “Thanks for getting back to me. I heard from a curator at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum today, who said “The mask is similar in style to pieces from Benin. It is certainly not Naga.” I have asked her whether she knows of any decorated with gold foil as I can’t find a single mask on the Web with similar decoration. I may take it to the British Museum to see what they think and will let you know if I find anything definitive.”

  • Andrey

    This, in my opinion, is not an African but a Nepalese mask. The way the ears and teeth are carved is common for Nepalese shaman/primitive masks.

    Should you, however, insist this is African… well, then it’s probably something related to Kumu or Sukuma masks.

  • George Beccaloni

    Andrey: I have just seen your comment and have had a look at ‘primitive’ Nepalese masks online. Yes, my mask does indeed look like it could be from that region – so thanks very much for your suggestion. I guess someone at Kew Botanic Gardens could determine the species of tree it is made from – which would narrow the possibilities down a lot.

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