African masks, Part Two
Another important thing to consider when discussing masks is the balance between
tradition and fresh ideas. Although tradition is and will always be important in
African culture; Africans also understand the importance of evolution as a society.
This is why you will even find some masks being taken out and intentionally destroyed
after ceremonies. It is a move made to show children that even if the mask has been
made in the same way for generation after generation, it will be made for another
ceremony in different circumstances the next time. It also shows kids that tradition
is born from each generation repeating the same task in their own way.
Finally, it is very important to remember that African masks are not made to be
hung up or displayed. They remain practical tools which are intended to do many
other things. The person wearing the mask is not important. It is the mask which
takes on a life of its own. It is carried or worn for a reason, not because the
people think it is pretty or scary for instance.
Here are a few reasons that people use masks, but there are many other reasons too:
- During agricultural festivals masks are worn either to ask the ancestors for a good
rain season or to show thanks for a good harvest.
- The Dan people use a mask which is worn to announce fire in the fields. A person
called the “runner” races through the village wearing the mask which lets people
know that the fields are on fire. This means that the “runner” is not the one announcing
bad news, the mask is.
- Sometimes masks are worn to announce that a person has been approved to enter a
certain territory. This kind of mask is called a passport mask because it gives
the person carrying it a “pass” to enter an area where people from a different tribe
or ethnic group live. The same idea is used today all over the world. So if you
wanted to take a trip to China for example, you would need a “passport mask”. The
only difference is that yours would be made of paper and would have your picture
- Masks are often worn or carried during funeral ceremonies. They are used to invite
the ancestors to come and show the person who died how to get to heaven or to chase
off bad spirits which might want to possess the dead body.
- Many masks are worn during ceremonies which gather groups of boys or girls and announce
that they are now old enough to marry.