Thursday, 29 November 2012


Strangely disconcerting things masks are. The museum on Chamber Street has a great pile of them from around the world.

This little number hails from the Tami Islands in Papua New Guinea.

A Gle mask of the Dan (or Gio) people from Liberia. The Gle are powerful forest spirits who would tell the maker of mask what it should look like in a dream. He would ask the elders for permission to make the mask which would then be used  for the dance of that particular Gle. The style of these masks are very diverse but, then again, there are many Gle.

This mask from Cameroon has been made by the Bafu tribe.

This is a mask worn by members of the Ekpo society which exists for men of the Ibibo peoples of Nigeria. It's not known how long the society has existed but elders will tell you that it is as long as there has been ancestors. The ancestors are the spirits of people who have once lived and the word Ekpo itself means ghost.

The last few masks have all been from the 19th or early 20th century. This one is much older. It's a Greek terracotta theatre mask from the 1st or 2nd century BC.

Perhaps the sinister overtones of this mask are down to the associations we have with a white version worn by a certain organisation of the southern United States. The hood is actually one worn by participants in Spanish Easter processions. Mind you when you see the picture inset here, I'm sure they look pretty sinister without the associations.

 This is a mask of Ravana used in an Indian Battle dance called a chhau. This particular mask was made in Edinburgh. Ravana was a bad un, he's the ten headed demon king from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. He kidnaps Sita the wife of Lord Rama, which is distinctly not on, and gets his comeuppance.

This mask from Indonesia is used for a Topeng dance. The dancer holds the mask in her teeth while a gamelan orchestra plays the characters words. Here is an example from youtube.

This is an Okuyi mask from Gabon. Okuyi is a rite of passage practiced in several central African countries.

The next two masks are from Sri Lanka for use in Kolam dancing.

The museum label doesn't relate this mask to Kolam dancing but when looking it up for the previous mask, I found this clip which is awfully like this mask.

This is not the kind of costume I had imagined to be part of Tibetan Buddhism and I had never heard of their Cham dance until I saw these. This costume if of the Deity Yamantaka.

This skeleton costume and the one before it are both from Darjeeling in 1919. A Cham dance with costumes not unlike these can be seen here.

Another dance from the same culture is the Black Hat Cham, where a Buddhist monk dressed in the black hat and robes of a magician defeats and oppressive king through the power of dance. 

And if you thought some of the early ones were scary.....


Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

Thanks for that. I'll probably have bad dreams tonight.

Sandy's witterings said...

Your welcome John, sleep tight.

The Glebe Blog said...

The last one is certainly the scariest.
I wonder if the Bafu tribe are related to some of the tribe I used to work with the SNAFU.