What is African art? When asked this question a majority of people will include African masks in their answer. On this page of Interesting Africa facts we supply information about the types of African masks, their meanings, how they were worn, and more. This list of interesting facts is written for both kids and adults.
There are numerous types of African mask produced by the various tribes and people of Africa. Ritual and ceremonial masks are an important part of most African cultures.
Interesting African masks information
- African mask are generally made to be used. This African art is usually made to be used in various ceremonies and social events such as weddings and funerals.
- Mask usually have a spiritual meaning or connection.
- The artists who create mask are given a special status.
- The mask making skill and knowledge of the spiritual meanings held by masks are passed down from father to son.
- Mask are usually designed to appear human or animal or a combination of the two.
- Mask are often decorated with such things as animal hair or straw (for hair and beards), animal horns, animal teeth, feathers, and sea shells.
- Not everyone in a tribe has the honor of wearing a mask; it is usually only a select few in the tribe. Often only men and sometimes only elders are given this honor.
- It is generally believed that the individual who wears the mask transforms into a spirit. This transformation usually takes place during some type of ritual. This can allow for communication between humans and spirits.
- African mask often represent the cultural values of the tribe. For example In Gabon large mouths and chins represent strength and authority.
- Mask are usually made out of wood. Other materials that are used include metals (especially bronze and copper), light stone, fabric, and pottery.
- Often mask are painted.
Information on African Mask Types
There is a huge variety of mask types found in Africa which makes classifying them a difficult task. This type of African art ranges from very detailed and accurate figures to the very abstract. African masks can be classified into the following basic types.
- Face mask - are the most common mask type. They are used throughout Africa. They can be secured to the face in several ways. These methods include with a band or string put through holes on each side of the mask, held on by a wig, or secured by a scarf.
- Headdress masks - are actually are set on a base which sits on top of the wearers head. The Bambara (Bamana), who are the largest ethnic group in Mali, are famous for this type of mask.
- Shoulder masks - are usually large and heavy and rest on the wearer's shoulders.
- Helmet masks - fit over the wearer's entire head and are usually carved from a section of tree trunk.
- Helmet crests - Unlike the helmet masks these mask do not fit over the wearer's entire head but rather is worn like a hat, leaving the face exposed.
- Cap crests (forehead masks) - This type of mask is worn on the forehead leaving the wearer's face exposed.