Culture, History

The functions of masks in Black Africa.

masks in black africa

The masks are present in all black Africa

The mask is present throughout Black Africa and takes on different forms and meanings depending on the region. The mask is a particularly important creation: unlike what is exhibited in museums today, it is never worn alone, but associated with clothing. In most cases, a mask is an object carved from wood, cloth or leather. It allows a person to change their appearance, either by hiding it or by expressing their beliefs.

Therefore, the mask hides and completely eliminates the identity of the wearer. The purpose of this mask is not to represent a visible reality, but a moral, supernatural and spiritual reality. The individual wearing this mask loses his identity and instead supports a beneficial force.

African masks have several functions. Its functions are of essential importance in determining their values

Different functions of a mask :

  • Cultural function

The mask is used for initiation ceremonies, birth ceremonies and funerals; it can also perform worship ceremonies.

  • Socio-political function

The mask is used as a last resort to resolve disputes, peace and war; its decisions are irrevocable; on a strict political level, the mask gives instructions to the political leaders to manage the community; finally, they organize the village police to ensure village security.

  • Deep function

The African mask itself is a true sacred object, acting as an intermediary between man and God, and is therefore prayed for. This gives people certain advantages: a favorable harvest time and a good planting schedule.

  • Economic and festive function

From an economic point of view, the mask will intervene to appease the anger of the gods during natural disasters, which will disrupt the data of agricultural life and threaten the survival of the community.

The masks nowadays will rather occupy a function which will be to animate ritual dances and the masked dances generally announce the opening of festivals.

Regions of Africa where masks are made and used.

The fundamental function of the African mask is to maintain order. The mask embodies the gods and is the guardian of their authority. It is a real ideological tool to ensure the traditional social order in Africa. The mask is responsible for maintaining order in African society and families.

African masks in today’s society are now considered as plastic arts, and visual artists now shape them for creative and aesthetic pleasure.

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