• Africa

    Bembe mask used for politics

    A protester opposed to the Burundian President’s third term wears a traditional mask near a burning barricade in Bujumbura, Burundi, recently. It is right on the border with the PRC. The area is heavily populated with the Bembe people. This comes from an article in The Atlantic called The Masks We Wear, by Alan Taylor, May 26, 2015. It contains 30 excellent photos of authentic masks. “We wear masks for many reasons: for fun, for protection, or to make a statement. In turbulent public settings, obscuring one’s face can protect an individual from retaliation while evoking fear and uncertainty in others. Donning the mask of a cultural, political, or religious…

  • Africa

    Ogoni mask with hinged jaw

    Q: Hello, I bought this African mask at a thrift shop about 10 years ago. Paid around US$250.00 at the time. It has 12in x 7in x 6in (deep). Thanks! Alberto, 1581 A: The Ogoni are perhaps the oldest settlers of the Eastern Niger Delta, living south of the Igbo in heavily populated Nigeria. Because they encountered the British at a relatively late date and received comparatively less Westernized education than their neighbors, the Ogoni have maintained more of their precolonial culture than other tribes. Though masks vary regionally, they are of men or women with articulated jaws and narrow teeth usually made of cane. Historically, masks were worn in…

  • Africa

    Ogbodo elephant mask from West Africa

    Every week or so I like to pick an especially attractive mask to add to our Ask the Mask Man blogs. Often these are from West Africa, but they are always better in quality than those crude brown things you see on eBay and in thrift shops. This one is from the Igbo/Izzi people of Nigeria. Its human features, combined with the tusks and trunk of an elephant, were worn horizontally on the head. A grass fibre cuff at the lower rim concealed the head of the dancer, who was dressed in a fibre costume of knee-length. Every village has a whole hierarchy of these spirits, divided into age-grades, from…

  • Africa

    West African 3-faced helmet mask

    Q: Hi, I have a truly intriguing, very large wearable mask. Once again, I can not find anything like it. I would be most grateful for any insights or information. Thank You, Diane, 1579 A: I blew it the last time with your mystery mask on May 23. This one is even tougher for me. The design and colors are well done and very appealing. The patina is gorgeous. Is it old and used? I can’t tell, but if I were trying to earn a living making tourist masks I would not work this hard on a single item. Dear Viewers, please send us your comments on Diane’s intriguing mystery…

  • Africa

    Bull mask from Guinea Bissau

    The Bidjogo people make four versions of the bull mask which they still use today. Here is an excellent description of these realistic masks. Skip to paragraph 3 if you aren’t interested in their history. The historical significance of the ox for the Bidjogo peoples dates back to European encounters of the late fifteenth century, when Portuguese sailors introduced the animal to the Bissagos Islands in what is current day Guinea Bissau. Its prominent role gained momentum during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when warring villages stole stock from one another and foreign traders borrowed cattle on credit, all against the backdrop of a thriving slave trade that exacerbated existing…

  • Africa

    Bamana helmet crest

    Q: Good day Mr Ibold, it is me again and I appreciate your support. Please find attached a mask also collected in the Congo during the 50’s. 70 cm long and covered in (dried) mud. And most certainly weathered. Jan, 1573 A: The only problem with the description is that it implies made in the Congo area. Actually, it was made in Mali, far away in the northwest of Africa. This helmet crest is called a Komo by the Bamana people of Mali and is worn on the masquerader’s head. I think yours is authentic. The most important society for the Bamana was the Komo, whose members were grouped by…

  • Africa

    Old We/Guere mask

    Q: This mask was given to my mother, Mary Ellen Goodman, PhD, by one of her professors, the famous anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, probably in the late 1930s. I’ve always loved it but don’t know anything about it. Images are shot against an 8.5×11 inch paper for scale. Lanny, 1571 A: This is probably an old We Guere Mask from the people of Cote d’Ivoire. If it was found in a thrift shop or on eBay, I would dismiss it as a cheap tourist mask. But because of the family provenance, I think we should look at it more closely. The size and wood seems right. None of the surfaces are…

  • Africa

    Mwaash aMbooy Kuba mask

    Q: Please find attached a Kuba mask, also collected by father in the 50’s. Exceptionally well made both in terms of craftsmanship and artistic symmetry. Facial cover made of iron plate. Height 62cm and width at base 45cm. It has been worn, but not much. Jan, 1568 A: Rarely does the Mask Man get to see high quality artifacts in his mail. Of course, elaborately beaded Kuba masks are popular with collectors and you can easily find them on the internet. But they won’t be quite as nice as this one. Please increase the size of these photos to appreciate the detail. The Kuba Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom…

  • Africa

    Interesting fake from Cameroon, or authentic mask from Angola

    Q: Hi, thank you for your help. I have this mask and can not find another one like it. What can you tell me! I have an excess of masks, and am trying to sell some of them. Diane, 1567 A: I haven’t seen one quite like this. A good guess is that it was made somewhere in Cameroon to look like an old and used Ekoi helmet mask. They are often of carved wood covered with animal skin and painted. The overall structure is of stiff basketry. If you try to sell it I hope you resist calling it an authentic Ekoi mask. It is instead a quickly made…

  • Africa

    Kota reliquary guardian figure

    Q: I am curious about this. I won it at a raffle in Washington DC and was told that someone in the state department had brought it back from, generically, Africa. Any information? Natasha, 1562 A: This is not a mask. It is an almost flat, sculpted portrait that seems to show up in African mask collections because of its unique appearance and beauty. They vary in size, but always follow the same format. Sizes can range from 6 inches 3 feet. This one is 21 inches. They are made with a combination of wood and hammered metal. The Kota once used reliquary guardian figures (called mbulu ngulu) to protect…