Lipiko Mask

Makonde, ca. 1940
Wood, human hair, beeswax, recycled tin, indigenous earth pigment
Gift of the Advisory Board

The Lipiko mask, created by the Makonde of northern Mozambique, is performed during festivals and masquerades that mark the completion of both boys’ and girls’ initiation. As the initiates sit in a line the masked dancer tilts his head back, which parts the raffia or cloth to expose his identity, revealing to the young initiates a paradox, seemingly opposing concepts that the masks are at once ancestral spirits and living men portraying a character. Though only men perform, the carvings depict men, women, foreigners, and animals. The male masks are accented by a bedazzled raffia or cloth costume. Female masks are complemented by a wooden body mask depicting a pregnant belly.
This expressive and sculpturally dynamic mask is from the 1940s based on the hair and scarification patterns as well as the sensitivity of the carving. The mask fits atop the dancer’s head like a helmet, covering his ears, eyes, and nose. Carved from one piece of wood, the mouth is a stylized diamond formed by two triangular lips; the nose is subtle, protruding slightly from the plane of the face, emphasizing the nostrils; the eyes are open, but articulated as simple slivers; and the ears are spirals that unravel like a fern. The beeswax keloids are still affixed and the complex geometric coiffure is made of human hair.