African masks can be considered as one of the greatest works of art in Africa. They are made of different materials which include leather, fabric and various types of wood.
They are a widely sought after part of the different African cultures by art collectors. In fact, some of the most impressive ones take up space in museums and art galleries all over the world.
Masking ceremonies are the best way to experience the glory of African masks. The ceremonies have religious and ceremonial value and can even give the admirer a greater insight into the ideas and values that the makers of the mask express in them.
As has been mentioned, various tribes in Africa have their own masks and some of these masks are ritual and ceremonial. They, therefore, have types, meanings behind them and even things to be noted about wearing them.
Types Of African Masks
Face mask: Face masks are used throughout Africa. They are the most common mask type and are secured to the face in a variety of ways. These can be a string, band, secured with a scarf or even held on by a wig.
Cap crests: Worn on the forehead leaving the wearer’s face exposed.
Headdress masks: They are set on a base that sits on top of their head. This type of maks is most known with the Bambara who are the largest ethnic group in Mali.
Shoulder masks: These large and heavy masks seat on the wearer’s shoulders.
Helmet masks: Fit over the entire head and are normally carved from one section of a tree trunk.
Helmet crests: They do not fit over the entire head but are rather worn like a hat, leaving the face exposed.
Interesting Facts About African Masks
- African masks are pieces of art but are made to be used. They are employed in various ceremonies and social events that range from weddings to the funeral of a respected person.
- Masks are likely to have a spiritual meaning or even a connection that is widely touted and believed in. For instance, it is generally believed that the individual who wears the mask transforms into a spirit.
- Making African masks requires great skill and knowledge of the artist as relates to spiritual matters. For this reason, the spiritual lessons held by masks are often passed down from father to son.
- The masks are designed with human or animal characteristics or a mixture of both.
- Artists who make African masks are given a special status in their communities.
- The masks can be decorated with things like animal hair, feathers, straw, horns, teeth and seashells.
- People who are allowed to wear masks are only a select few from the tribe in question. It is a thing of honour and most of the time, only men or elders in the tribe are given the honour.
- Masks are made out of wood, metals (bronze and copper), fabric, stone and some others.