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African Masks and Masquerades



Masquerades mark important events in the community.
This Bamum mask symbolizes an ancestor and is worn at funerals and memorial celebrations. The masker places it on top of his head and wears a mesh veil to cover his face.
zoom This Bamum mask symbolizes an ancestor and is worn at funerals and memorial celebrations. The masker places it on top of his head and wears a mesh veil to cover his face.

 

Many masquerades mark transitions within the cycle of life. When boys and girls mature from youth to adulthood, masquerades celebrate this life change and teach children how to be adults. Masquerades also play a large role in funeral ceremonies. To help the deceased enter the afterlife, masked spirits appear to honor ancestors, provide protection, and offer guidance.

Masquerade performances honor spirits who bring prosperity to a community. Women are powerful in their communities because they are able to give birth. To help promote fertility, masked spirits perform special ceremonies. Masquerades also are performed at harvest time to honor farming spirits and promote a successful harvest.

Masked spirits can provide protection and help maintain social order. A community may perform a masquerade to ask spirits for protection in war, and against disease and natural disasters. Elders wear masks to call upon ancestors spirits when they need assistance in judging a crime.

Masquerades are also performed at many occasions for simple celebration. These include ancestor celebrations, royal events, religious ceremonies, weddings, and festivals.


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1. This mask is worn by a man in the Pende community at iniation ceremonies for boys entering adulthood.
2. The Yombe mask is worn in ritual dances associated with fertility.
3. The kpele kpele mask is worn at elders' funerals and as village entertainment.

 

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April 2004