Does each type of african art mask have a significant meaning?

Written by jo walmsley-lockhart
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Does each type of african art mask have a significant meaning?
Tribal masks carved form wood. (tribal masks image by StephenD from

Dating back to Paleolithic times, African masks were and still are made out of various materials, such as leather, fabric and different varieties of wood. The masks are used as part of a ceremonial costume to symbolise various aspects of different African tribes.

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The Kwele

Originating in Gabon, the Kwele mask protects the Kwele tribes form witchcraft. The mask consists of two horns to represent an antelope. Its beautiful heart-shaped face and almond eyes are painted with white kaolin clay to symbolise the colour of the spirits. Typically, this mask is worn during initiation ceremonies and at the end of periods of mourning.

Dan Masks

The Dan tribe occupy the western coast of Liberia, and their masks consist of typically high foreheads, a pointed chin and pouting mouths. Dan masks are carved in wood and stained brown. These masks are sacred and used as a means of communication with the spirit world. The different Dan masks serve different purposes in rituals, some purely for entertainment and some for important ritualistic aspects of festivals.

The Bwa Masks

The Bwa people come from Mali and Burkina Faso, and their masks are considered to have special powers controlled by the wearers. The plank-shape mask consists of a circular face at one end and a crescent shape at the other end. The owl-like eyes and hornbill nose are used because these birds are believed to possess special powers. The pattern on the mask symbolises myths and morality that boys must learn before being initiated into adulthood.

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