The Face of Ritual

As I talked about in my "African Art in Ritual" discussion, many of the African cultural rituals center around works of art. Masks in particular are popular focus of these rituals. Masks were used as not only a representation of a spirit, but also as a way to channel a spirit. Almost every African culture emphasizes the importance of the spirit world. Spirits were thought to be everywhere and in everything. A spirit could be a deity, an animal, an ancestor and anything in between. Most masks are made primarily out of wood but they are certainly not contained to one medium. Masks can have ceramic, feather, beaded and even human hair components. Masks were used in any type of spiritualistic ritual or performance. The Bwa "Hawk Mask" is a great example of spiritualistic mask. It may have been used in coming of age or seasonal change ceremonies. The Ekoi "crest Helmet" is another great example of a spiritual mask. This mask was probably used in funeral or coming of age ceremonies. I find the curved horns especially striking. Pay close attention to what kind of ceremonies or spirits these masks may represent as they are all unique in their own way.

This mask is unique because it is a mask meant for women to wear. Most masks were only allowed for men during important ceremonies but this mask is different. It is worn by the Sewa women to initiate young girls into adulthood. The mask shows the face of what is valued most in Sewa society; a small nose and ears, robustness shown in neck folds, and a smooth youthful complexion. The mask is made of a medium colored wood with what seems to be human hair hanging from the bottom. This piece is meant to be a special way for elder women to welcome young women to adulthoood.
This mask is a representation of an animal spirit. In this case the spirit would take the form of an elephant. This headdress would have been used in spiritual performances. The entire piece is made of woven cloth and beads. The cloth is primarily deep blue and forms a clear pattern of face and ears. The face appears to be making a grimace. This could mean that the Kuosi people viewed the elephant as fearsome and powerful. certainly this is a magnificently detailed and time oriented mask.
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