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Emily Martinez


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Assignment 2 unit 2

January 28, 2018

Masquerades Importance in African Culture

African culture holds rituals and customs very highly, among these rituals were the masquerades. Masquerade is commonly mistaken for secular or entertainment purposes but for African culture, the masquerade was used for spiritual or ancestral representations and is a big element in the African culture. For many of the African culture, the masquerade was mostly performed by men barring mask representing different aspects of their culture and is very expressive form not only through the masks different characteristics and artistic view but also through the dances as well and the stories the dancers portray. The Senufo, Dogon, and Kuba are three of the African cultures that have shown to practice the Masquerades

The Senufo people are live in West Africa more accurately, the western Sudan region. The present day area is now known as Côte d’Ivoire. The Senufo were among the African culture to use masquerades and were known for mask making. Men always performed Senufo Masquerades The Senufo men danced many masks in the aspect of Poro, which was used for social and initiation practices. The Poro took men an average of 20 years to complete. According to the Smithsonian Museum of Africa Art, the Senufo people started to make metal masks by first observing the neighboring Diula peoples. They often represented ancestors, spirits, creatures, and bush powers. The maskers used Large masks of creatures that usually compiled characteristics of, human, antelope, crocodile, warthog, and hyena. They most likely used these strong aggressive creatures in their mask to fight malevolent spirits, witchcraft, sorcery and wandering spirits.  The prominent characteristics of these masks were horns and an open jaw with sharp teeth.  They were important to protect the people with their strong forms and medicines. The Senufo belief in the masquerade was to fight evil-minded spirits with their powerful forms. Not only was the masquerades use as protectors but also as funeral practices. When a person has deceased the masquerade performers would be seen dancing with masks to help the deceased leave the village. Because death was also seen as a right of passage it was also part of Poro because the masks play a great role in the funeral. In the Senufo culture if an important individual were to pass it is common to see several masking groups, even the feminine masks as well. The feminine mask often represents pretty or more beautiful features compared to those of which are more masculine.  The feminine one usual one have small faces and several extensions. The men who wear this mask are often seen in knitted body suits and trade cloth to interpret their beauty. The female characters are sometimes portrayed as the wives of the masculine masked characters. The Senufo peoples mask makers were held in great importance because the masquerades were used in so important to the culture like to fight unseen forces of nature, the spiritual world, honoring ancestors sickness, and funerals.

            The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, in West Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara. The Dogon masquerades consist of portraying creation tales and characters. What is fascinating about the Dogon culture is that they recognize women as the first masqueraders because it is believed that women were the first to imitate spirit maskers. Although the women were believed to be the first masqueraders, they are excluded in taking part of the masquerades. The role was then put upon the men. A specific mask called Satimbe was made to represent all women and signifies “sister on the head”.  The Satimbe mask is comprised of wood, fiber, and a bright pigment costume. These masks are square-shaped, with a figure placed on top of the mask, representing the female. They have narrow rectangular openings for the eyes. The figure that represents females is usually a crowing element and is usually much bigger than the mask itself. The characteristics of the female figure are prominent cone shaped breast and bent arms. The masks appear at funerals to chase the spirits of the dead away from the village into the to the bush. Satimbe is seen among other spirit characters in a yearly ceremony called Dama. In this ceremony the mask help honor the lives of the deceased who have passed between the last Dama.  The masquerades are believed to help guide the deceased souls into the land of the dead where as ancestors they can help the living by promoting agriculture. According to the metropolitan museum of art one of the common mask commonly seen in the Dama ceremony is the Kanaga mask. The metropolitan museum of art mentions that in 1935 a French anthropologist named Marcel Griaule witnessed a Dama ritual in which twenty-nine out of a total of seventy-four masks were of the Kanaga type.  The Kanaga mask is usually made from wood, fiber and hide. Usually when the mask is worn the individual’s head is covered with a hood like with plaited fiber fringe at the end. The person is also usually seen with a vest that has black, red and white embroidered clothing. Khan academy describes the mask as the following ” Kanaga masks depict the face as a rectangular box with deeply hollowed channels for the eyes.  A double-barred cross with short vertical elements projecting from the ends of the horizontal bars. This abstract form has been interpreted on two levels: literally, as a representation of a bird, and, on a more esoteric level, as a symbol of the creative force of god and the arrangement of the universe. In the latter interpretation, the upper crossbar represents the sky and the lower one, the earth.” Khan academy also states that more than eighty different types of mask have been documented in Dama ceremonies that represent figures such as hunters, warriors, healers, women, and people from neighboring ethnic groups.

            The Kuba people are located in the democratic republic of Congo. The Kuba people masks are greatly inspired by creation legends and royal ancestors. Although the Kuba people are diverse in ethnic group, they all fall under one king. The Kubas king court three masks are shown to be displayed there, Mwashamboy, Bwoom, and Ngady. The three masks each represent ancestors. The Mwashamboy is said to represent the founding ancestor known as woot. Mwashamboy is also said to represent the king’s political power and supernatural abilities. Bwoom is characterized by its bulging forehead and is also known as the helmet mask and is said to symbolize indigenous people with kingship, the Bwoom mask also is the brother and contender to Mwashamboy.  The Material commonly used for Bwoom are as follows: wood, copper, cowries, beads, cloth. Ngady represents the first women and all women. Tears down her cheeks characterize the Ngady mask. The saddening story of Ngady is that she was forced to commit incest with her father, woot,  in order to create new life, hence the tears on her cheeks. She also represents the pain and struggle of childbirth in women.  Ngady mask not only characterized by her tears by the beads, geometric patterns and shells used to make the unique mask. The three characters are important in Kuba culture and masquerades because they often used to recreate and dramatized creation stories, often used in royal initiation ceremonies. The three characters mentioned, Mwashamboy Bwoom, and Ngady are usually portrayed in a ceremonial dance where the male characters Mwashamboy and Bwoom fight over the female character and female ancestor Ngady. Mwashamboy fights to keep his royal rank and wife, while Bwoom fights for the power of the throne and for the love of Ngady. The three prominent characters in the Kuba culture are also used in Kuba festivals. There are many types of masks in Kuba society. Each mask has its own importance and represents different aspect of the Kuba society. The Kuba culture values their mask so highly that children are not allowed to view the mask of higher importance. Another significant mask to the Kuba culture is the pwoom itok mask, the masks primary characteristics are the shape of the eyes, whose centers are cones surrounded by holes through which the individual can see. Common characteristics of the pwoom itok mask are also prominent colors and feathers. The Mask is to be worn by a dancer who would represent an old wise man. he use of the pwoom itok mask is an recognition of the wisdom older ancestors and the elders that can be passed along to the younger generations through ceremonial dance acts. Men dancer at boys’ initiation ceremonies and at burial sites usually wears the mask, which is why the pwoom itok mask serves as an important part of Kuba Society.

            Many of the African culture and history is shown or portrayed through masquerades. The most interesting to is the belief that through masquerades they could interact with the spiritual world and fight or ward off evil sprits. Every different society had their own unique beliefs and representations of masquerades. The importance of masquerades and masks is also shown constantly through important ceremonies like funerals, initiations and representation of the cultures history. The masks were also used as ways to honor the dead, living, religions as to personify Gods. They cherish the mask and the history they carry that men could only wear many of the masks and passed down to generations. Each mask telling a different story or symbolizing an important apart of the African culture through the art and dance .The masquerades has truly stood the test of time and has shown its significance in African culture through many different forms and ways   




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