The Mask Maker The continent of Africa has many cultures, but one element is common to them all – MASKS
The Mask Maker The mask maker is a specially educated person who is respected and feared by his tribe for his understanding of the spirit world. Artists’ training can last for many years through either an apprentice/mentor relationship or by skills that are passed down from father to son.
Every mask is made according to strict rules. They believe that the materials that they work with and every color and shape has power. This power directs the artists’ work. Masks are made of bone, ivory, metal, fiber, and most often wood. They may look natural or abstract using bold, geometric shapes. They can represent qualities such as nobility, beauty, courage, humor, etc.
African masks are used as ceremonial costumes. They are very symbolic (celebration, war, death) and of inner feelings. Masks are used to help tell a story about the tribe’s history. They come to life through music and dance. One thing that is common to all masks: They are expressions of inner feeling and not copies of nature. Not all masks are intended to be worn in public.
The Yohure are noted for their beautifully crafted masks that combine human and animal features. They have elaborate hairstyles which often include horns, elongated faces with a high forehead, arched eyebrows and a low protruding mouth. The face of a Yohure mask is outlined with triangular zigzag designs. Yohure masks are used in dance rituals to help villagers come to terms with the death of one of their people. The masks represent the Yu spirits who restore the social balance after a bereavement. These masks are considered very powerful and dangerous objects. They must be kept out of sight of women for fear of the effects that the supernatural powers of the Yu spirits may have on them.
Biombo masks are usually carved from wood and colored with red "tukula" powder, a dye made from the camwood tree. The eyes are a typical coffee bean shape. A triangular checkerboard design is used to decorate the eyebrows and the planes of the face. The three forms at the back of the head represent the Biombo hairstyle. Feathers are often attached to the top of Biombo masks. Biombo masks are usually worn during tribal rituals and ceremonies.
The Lwalwa mask above is an ‘mvondo’ mask which is worn by men. Lwalwa masks are stylized using simple geometric forms to represent the features of the face. The eyes of the mask are rectangular holes and the nose is a long flat triangle that often stretches to the top of the head. The ears are reduced to small bumps and a stylized mouth projects from above a pointed chin. Lwalwa masks are carved from a wood called ‘mulela’ and colored with a dye from the fruit of the ‘mukula’ tree, also called the ‘bloodwood’ or ‘sealing wax’ tree. The Lwalwa are famous for their dancing and masks play an important part in their celebrations, particularly the secret rituals of the ‘bangongo’ society who are responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood.