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Learn About Masks of Africa

Masks of Africa are thought to be some of the most valuable and sought after pieces of art by art collectors around the world.

They are priceless in value and are said to hold the keys of connecting the living with the dead.

Among African tribes, masks of Africa are believed to portray the faces of gods and spirits.

Because of this african masks are very often designed with the characteristics of animals and humans.

All face and head ornaments for Africa rituals and ceremonies fall into one of four categories: the ancestor spirit, the mythological hero, the combination of ancestor and hero and the animal spirit.

Ceremonies in Africa have substantial traditional and cultural importance. Recent understanding of the principle Aesthetics, religious and ceremonial values have given a better insight into the moral values that African artists convey in their art.

African masks most times stand for a spirit and it is deeply and sincerely alleged that the spirit of the ancestor possesses the one wearing the mask.

Masks of human ancestors or of mythical beings or animals that a clan or family can trace its ancestry to are sometimes the object of family pride, when they are considered as the place where the spirit now is living (possessing), may honor the masks with ceremonies and gifts.

Some cultures also suggest that wearing a mask allows the wearer to take on the characteristics of the mask's specific representations, i.e., a lion mask will cause the wearer to have the attributes of a lion. Dance is commonly involved in the use of the masks of Africa.

Rituals that include the use of or the ceremonial values of African masks span from childbearing/birth to rites of passage ceremonies (typically involving some form of dance rituals)

Examples of dance rituals involving African masks are:

  • Agricultural festivals
  • Rituals for increase (money, property, children and others)
  • Rituals for rites of passage
  • Ancestor cults
  • Initiations including secret societies
  • Related Ceremonies
  • Fertility rites
The size and style of the masks of Africa are varied, portraying animals, human faces and more abstract styles in different sizes. Generally, the masks are included as part of a full costume and not just a single adornment.

These ceremonial adornments are still made of a variety of materials, including metal, leather, fabric and different types of wood.

The main material was wood because of the large forests and choice of species existing. The carver would seek the assistance of a diviner and perform a purification ceremony and when the first cut was made, he would drink some of the liquid so that he could establish a brotherhood with the tree’s spirit.

The mask would then be formed from a single piece of wood. More often than not, green timber was used as this was easier to cut.

In general, the softer woods were used. Occasionally, specific tribes would use ivory or brass to design their masks of africa. During the process of making a mask, the artist seeks to portray a person's psychological and moral characteristics.

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