African Masquerade Significant Thoughts Essay

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African Masks

Masquerades are found in virtually all African civilizations, particularly those that are indigenous to this region of the world. Not surprisingly, these masquerades have different forms of significance for different cultures. Nonetheless, there are some basic cultural similarities pertaining to these rituals that transcend individual cultures and pertain to African deployment of this concept as a whole. Firstly, the definition of the very term masquerade can include "a masking performance, a masked performer, or the character embodied by the mask itself" (Uzo, 1997). Moreover, there is an element of spirituality that is strongly associated with this tenet of the masquerade. It is very rare for participants to be unmasked once they have donned a masque and are partaking in a particular ritual or dance. The actual masques themselves are typically emblematic of animals or people, and have a transcendent spirituality. As such, the very participants who don masques and participate in masquerades become associated with that degree of esoteric spiritual energy, and have effectively shed their human form for the time being. The ensuing performance or ritual is similarly spellbinding, and deemed religiously and culturally eminent for all those participating and observing it.

An Overview of African Cultures

The Ikeji are a group of African peoples located in West Africa within the country of Nigeria. Their deployment of the masquerade concept is noteworthy in part because of its representation of gender issues. Specifically, their masquerades are solely attended by men. Although it is possible for women and girls to watch the masquerade, all of the participants are males. As such, their ritualistic dancing is decidedly "a macho thing" (Uzo, 1997). Another extremely important facet of the Ikeji masquerade is the immense variety in purpose which accompanies this ceremony. For these peoples, the masquerade is employed for a bevy of different purposes. Some of them can signify celebrations and entertainment, others might deliver messages about the future or expectations of some of those participating in them. Still others masquerades might take place to "chastise evil-doers" (Uzo, 1997) or for funeral purposes. To this end, masquerades are simply a time-honored if not outright popular way for these people express themselves for a plethora of different reasons.

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Some cultures, however, utilizes masquerades for highly specific purposes. A good example of this proclivity is found in the practices of the Batchokwe, a group of indigenous African peoples that are located in Zaire. The main way that this group uses masquerades is as a coming of age ceremony for adolescent boys. Between the ages of 13 and 15, these boys are circumcised. Prior to circumcision, however, these young boys partake in a fairly elaborate ceremony which actually beings with months of training. During their training they are teased and separated from society, since they are unmanly because they are not circumcised. The day of the circumcision they are led through the village by a masked person. After they are circumcised, they each unmask the figure (Cal State, 2013).

Other African tribes, such as the Edo and the Yoruba, utilize masquerades as a means of directly communing with their ancestors. Specifically, these ancestors include the spirits of the deceased and those that have lived well before the participants of the masquerade have. In this respect, "Masquerade is the bridge of the chasm between the living and the living dead" (Ebhomienlen and Idemudia, 2014, p. 64).

Yoruba Masquerade Example

An excellent example of a Yoruba masque is found in the Brooklyn Museum. The title of this work of art is Helmet Mask (Igbudu). Although the artist is unknown, this piece dates from the 19th Century. This particular mask adheres to the deployment of Yoruba masks explicated above. It is a means for the Yoruba people to commune with spirits and forces pertaining to their ancestors. What is perhaps most striking about this mask is its appearance. The mouth is opened, revealing a series of crooked teeth. The effect is not unlike that of a monster that is growling and baring its teeth to frighten others. There are also other facets of this work that appear designed to frighten the beholders. The eyes of the figure are opened extremely wide; when considered in conjunction with the bared teeth, the….....

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Brooklyn Museum. (2016). Helmet mask (Igbudu). Retrieved from

Cal State University of Dominguez Hills. (2013). Chapter 2 - The Masks of Africa. Retrieved from

Ebhomienlen, T.O., Idemudia, M.O. (2014). (Ekpo) masquerade in Edo belief: The socio-economic relevance. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

Kleiner, F. S. (2016). Gardner's art through the ages: Non-western art since 1300; Book F (15th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Kleiner, F. S. (2016). Gardner's art through the ages: Non-western art to 1300 Book C (15th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Kleiner, F. S., & Mamiya, C. J. (2006). Gardner's art through the ages: Non-western perspectives (12th ed.). Retrieved from

Uzo, M.E. (1997). Ikeji masquerade. Retrieved from 19(1), 64-68.

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