Masks of the World – Masks From Around the World
  • Oceania

    Gourd mask from East Timor

    Q: I am unable to define the possible origin of this mask. Probably East Timor, Flores or the Malukus. Material is calabash, not coconut. Size 22 cm. It belonged to an old collection. Patrick, 1794 A:  Gourds can make excellent masks and are used by cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa, and all of the Americas.  This old example is beautifully done and in excellent condition. Patrick seems to know where it might have come from. I agree with him on East Timor. The are a number of indigenous groups there who do masks with this kind of simple decoration. And there are calabash-type gourds growing in that part of the…

  • Africa

    7th Chewa Mask blog

    I noticed this mask from Zambia on the internet recently. Over the years I’ve posted at least 6 Chewa masks, and they’ve always been much different from each other. The Chewa prefer this to replicating traditional designs as most tribes do. You can access our 6 on the homepage by typing in the word “chewa” and scrolling down. A member of a Bantu-speaking people of Malawi in Zambia, they can be found in Mozambique and Zimbabwe as well.  One key aspect of their traditional religion that has survived colonial and Christian prohibition is the all-male Nyau secret society, which performs traditional rites of passage. Masquerade is practiced a lot, and…

  • Africa

    Bundu mask of Sande Society

      Q:  My father acquired this mask in the early 1940’s. He was in the Navy or working for Pan Am in Liberia. It was WWII. This helmet mask is made from wood 16 1/2 inches tall and the bottom opening is an oval 7 1/2 by 9 1/4 inches. My recollection is that he took it from a dwelling at some risk to himself. I believe it was worn in connection with a woman’s coming of age ceremony/ritual/retreat. My father died in 1995, and I offered to return the mask by contacting a Liberian embassy. They did not reply.  Joanne, 1793 A: You have one of the most collectible…

  • Africa

    The sixth Chewa mask

    The Chewa people in Malawi, SE Africa, make my favorite masks. They are very creative and have a sense of humor. Even better, they are constantly practicing masquerade, which means authentic masks are readily available at affordable prices. You can see and read about five other Chewas on this site. On our front page (1) hit the magnifying glass icon, (2) type “chewa” and (3) hit Enter. Unfortunately, I don’t own the Elvis Presley mask. It’s in the Brooklyn Museum. Malawi is a country rich in the different cultures of its diverse population. One of the most unique and interesting cultural events that attracts a lot of interest from tourists…

  • East Asia

    Old Kitsune mask from Japan

    Kitsune is a mask of a fox. It has meaning in religion and folk tradition. In Japanese culture foxes have a contradictory behavior. They can be good or evil, depending on the situation. Some of the Japanese Kitsune can be used for Noh, Kyōgen, Shinto and Kagura performances. Noh is classical Japanese musical drama based on tales from traditional literature performed since the 14th century. Kyōgen is a form of traditional Japanese comic performance in the theater. It was performed as an intermission between Noh acts. Shinto is an ethnic religion in Japan, and it focuses on ritual practices. Kagura is a type of Shinto theatrical dance. The first Kitsune…

  • Africa

    Baga Simbondel headdress

    Many collectors have never seen Simbondel headdresses. More likely they’ve seen Baga snake headdresses or Baga Nimba shoulder masks. Each of these magnificent sculptures are something you won’t want to miss. Sorry, the three scans are low-res and can’t be enlarged much. The Baga people of West Africa have for centuries produced monumental works despite their small population and history of subjugation. They number no more than 40,000 in all, and live in several groups of villages along a 100-mile stretch of Guinea’s coast. They have never held major political power, and have been subjugated by others, both African and European. Not a people you would think important enough for…

  • Africa

    African Mystery

    Q: This is rather nice. Cannot quiet pinpoint the region. Alma, 1787 A: Probably northwest African. Hard to be sure, but it looks like a Dan mask, except really primitive. This makes sense, but damned if I can find anything in the reference books or internet that looks like this. Have any of you guys seen something like this? Any suggestion in the comment box will be appreciated.

  • East Asia

    Tribal masks of Vietnam

    The Kim Mun Lanten people of northern Vietnam and Laos traditionally follow a Daoist doctrine which overlays beliefs in animism (being affected by outside “spirits”) and ancestor worship. The masks are worn by shaman during ceremonies to impersonate deities who help one’s own spirits adhere more strongly to the self. Thus, a mask may be used by a shaman to strengthen someone who is going on or coming back from a hunting or trade expedition. The masks are decorated with bright paper at each usage, and often an older mask will have vestiges of paper from its last village ceremony. Some masks are carved from soft wood – often these…

  • Misc

    Q: I found this mask years ago, but always wonder it’s value and it’s authenticity. Sukelly, 1785 A: And well you should. It is from the undiscovered tribal areas of Papua New Guinea. We can tell because metal tools were not used to carve the mask. The large areas of the Sepic River area were only beginning to be discovered by white men in the early days of the 20th century… there were still a few undiscovered tribes in 2000! This artifact is authentic. It was probably hung on the outside of the owners hut or the inside of a meeting house, and represents the spirit of an important ancestor.…

  • East Asia

    Large, long-nosed Tengu mask

    Q: This large mask is Ht 19″; Depth back to nose tip 17″; and Width 12″. Clear & blue glass inserts. Appears to be wood or hard surface with top layer of cloth or paper or bark. Holes at bottom of nose and eyes. Bought 10 years ago from airline attendant. Do not remember what I paid for it. She got it during her South Pacific travels. Mindi, 1784 A: The Tengu mask is seen with a red face and an unusually large or long nose. Early depictions of Tengu in Japan show them as kite-like beings who can take a human-like form, often retaining wings, head or beak. The…