The Mask: A Vestige of Ancient African Tribal Art

by Kath Dawson

Tribal art forms come alive in all kinds of ethnic and artistic art pieces such as figures, statuettes, sculptures, ceremonial objects, and particularly in African tribal masks which are quite intriguing.
The heart and soul of Africa reflects in its unique tribal masks. These masks are known and recognised the world over and are particularly valued by art collectors for their uniqueness and appeal.

For centuries, they have been used for various kinds of African rituals, celebrations and tribal initiations such as crop harvesting, war rituals and other sacred ceremonies in Africa. They are an integral part of the attire, African tribesmen and women don for performing these various rituals.

In these rituals men and women alike put on masks, wore traditional clothes and sang, danced and prayed. The entire village participated in the ceremony. Music and prayers rant the air.

According to African tradition, the purpose of these ‘masked’ ceremonies was to communicate with dead ancestors. As part of the ritual, a dancer wore the ceremonial mask and while dancing without a break, he went into a deep trance where he communicated with the ancestors.

Usually, some learned man accompanied the dancer and deciphered the message simultaneously when the dancer spoke out something which was believed to be important messages from the dead ancestors.

Tribal masks were made from different materials ranging from leather, ivory, shells, wood beads, brass and metal. These traditions which have been handed down by generations through the ages ensured that each mask had its own particular significance.

Some masks were used to ward off evil spirits and some masks symbolized the celebrations. Families took pride in their masks as they were believed to be the dwelling place of their ancestors.

Each tribal group had its own type of masks. Some of these tribal groups included:

  • Tikar
  • Bobo
  • Fang
  • Kwele
  • Teke
  • Chokwe
  • Puna
  • Beta
  • Igbo
  • Toma
  • Bamoun
  • Songye

Even though the usage of tribal masks has declined drastically and masking rituals are not so common anymore, art collectors all over the world consider tribal masks among their most prized of possessions. From being part of private collections to items of home décor, African tribal art has always enjoyed immense popularity among aesthetic people and art lovers. You can check out our online art gallery to look for enchanting tribal masks to adorn your wall or add to your art collection.

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