• Africa

    Masks from Sierra Leone

    Sierra Leone is one of the smallest countries in Africa and yet it has a large impact on curators and collectors of masks. The Mende and Temne people who live their are strong in art and culture, especially with masquerade. They are the two largest ethnic groups. Two of the photos you see here are Jolies used for parades, especially in the capitol of Freetown by the popular Ode-Lay Society. They can be very elaborate, but others are much simpler and less expensive. The black helmet-style mask is worn by girls passing into adulthood at a Sande Society ceremony. The mask is called a Bundu. To the best of my…

  • Africa

    Unpainted Gu mask from Ivory Coast

    We recently posted a fully painted one which you can see by going to– https://masksoftheworld.com/gu-mask-from-west-africa/ Actually, this “unpainted” one has a little white paint. It is well made and beautiful. I don’t know if this dark brown one is authentic or a reproduction. If the latter, most of us could afford it. The photo was taken by Roman Bonnefoy. Here is some information on African masks for beginners… Ritual and ceremonial masks are an essential feature of the traditional culture and art of the peoples of Sub-Saharan and West African. While the specific implications associated to ritual masks widely vary in different cultures, some traits are common to most African…

  • Africa

    More on African masks

    The Mask Man: The first photo was shot at a Dogon village ceremony, the second one is a recently made fake. Authentic African masks are found in museums and high-end galleries– not at local auctions and yard sales. I Googled “African tribal masks” and looked carefully at about 300 images. Only 16 were authentic! I wasn’t too surprised. The Mask Man has been looking at photos of mystery masks sent in to this website for almost 20 years. I answer all of the emails but only post about 10% nowadays. As I have said before, if you buy a mask in Africa or anywhere else, assume it was made for…

  • Africa

    Ntomo masks from Mali

    Masks are appealing because of how the look… and what they tell us about a culture. A young woman who majored in psychology wrote this paper in college. I hope you enjoy it. The Bamana are a large and powerful ethnic group in Mali, West Africa. Both Islamic and traditional religious views are entwined in Bamana culture. The political structure is patrimonial, meaning positions are inherited and handed down through the male side of the family. Political leaders also control the group’s religious arrangement. Adulthood is earned through the process of six major initiation societies, collectively called the jow, which are used as both a religious and educational system. Bamana…

  • Africa

    Gu mask from West Africa

    Q: I bought this mask 7 years ago thru a fundraising auction for a cultural organization in So. Calif. The mask was donated to the auction by a member and was described simply as an African mask. My basic research indicates that it may be from the Baule people of the Ivory Coast and is a Mblo or portrait mask. I don’t think it’s very old, possibly less than 40 years. It measures approx. 21″ high and 8″ wide. Can you tell me if it is in fact a Baule Mblo mask? Thanks for your expertise! Scotty, 1709 A: You are almost right. The Baule and Guro people are located…

  • Africa

    Babanki elephant mask from Cameroon

    Q: I purchased this mask about 11 years ago while on a study abroad trip in South Africa. Specifically, it was purchased in a shop that dealt in mask. I believe the town was just north of Johannesburg. I’m not sure exactly how much I payed but probably in the neighborhood of $100US. The shop included a label on the back stating it origin (Guru tribe of Ivory Coast) and purpose (royal mask- “A symbol of power for the king exclusively”). It also noted the age to be around 80 years. I don’t know how much of this is accurate. The mask is made of wood and measures approximately 31…

  • Africa

    Africa’s greatest mask

    This Benin ivory mask is a sculptural portrait in ivory of Idia, (Queen Mother) of the 16th century Benin Empire. Two almost identical masks are kept at the British Museum in London and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Both feature a serene face of the Queen Mother wearing a beaded headdress, a beaded choker at her neck, scarification highlighted by iron inlay on the forehead, and all framed by the flange of an openwork tiara and collar of symbolic beings, as well as double loops at each side for attachment of the pendant. There are also examples on the same theme at the Seattle Art…

  • Africa

    Round Teke mask from Africa

    Wikipedia has this to say: The Teke people, or Bateke also known as the Tyo or Tio, are a Bantu Central African ethnic group that speak the Teke languages. Its population is situated mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, with a minority in Gabon. The economy of the Teke is mainly based on farming maize, millet and tobacco, but the Teke are also hunters, skilled fishermen and traders. The Teke sometimes chose blacksmiths as chiefs. The blacksmiths were important in the community and this occupation was passed down from father to son. In terms of life of the Teke, the village chief…

  • Africa

    Decorative Mwana Pwo mask

    Q: I stumbled upon your website when I was trying to research this mask. I found in my parents attic. I simply have no information on it, and I’m very curious about its origin, make and purpose. There seems to be iron detail on lips and eyes, as well as a frog shape on the forehead. The “beard” and chin is made of woven string. The rest is carved wood with no makers mark. I’m so curious! If you have any insight or just jumping off points I would greatly appreciate it! Lisa, 1680 A: You can find out plenty of information on the popular Mwana Pwo mask on Google.…

  • Africa

    Male and female Kifwebe masks from Africa

    With the coronavirus still spreading and everything around town closed, lets spend more time on the computer learning about ethnographic masks. Your first website to visit could be Rand African Art. Here is part of what Rand says about a pair of Kifwebe masks in his collection. These two are from the Songye people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are differentiated by gender and by their shape and size but also by the basic surface coloration and the decorative design and patterns on the surface. The masks said to represent a female are rarer than masks supposed to depict a male. Normally a band of mask-wearers is made…