When children throughout the United States put on costumes for Halloween, they often decorate their faces with things like paint, glitter, and fake blood. Sometimes they completely disguise their face inside a cardboard or latex covering called a mask. But is a mask just a wooden or cloth cover that fits over the face?

In Africa a mask is certainly much more. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa where masks are worn, Africans understand a mask to be not only a costume but also an idea and an action.

For a mask to be complete it must consist of both a headpiece and the costumes and props that the masker wears and carries during performance. When the mask is worn with the costume and is danced for an audience during a performance this event, is called a masquerade.

Masks are used throughout Africa at many different occasions, like life cycle ceremonies, religious events, and political rallies. They can instruct, discipline, warn, honor, and entertain.

Click on these masks to learn more about them!

"Bush Cow Mask"

"Maiden Spirit Helmet Mask"

"Egungun Costume"

© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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