We all love mask in this or that way. May be some of us love toy mask, some fantom mask, some of us the carnival mask so on…. But these mask are also used for the rituals in different ways based on region.

Let’s find out how they are related to rituals and the history behind it. But before that let’s have a small chit chat on the word mask.
A mask is nothing but an object normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance, or entertainment. This have been used for both ceremonial and practical purposes.
The word “mask” appeared in English in the 1530s, from Middle French masque means- “covering to hide or guard the face”, derived in turn from Italian maschera, from Medieval Latin masca- “mask, specter, nightmare”. This word is of uncertain origin, perhaps from Arabic maskharah ( مَسْخَرَۃٌ ), means “buffoon”.

Mask of Agamemnon

From ancient time, human used these masks in retails and ceremonies, though the religious use of masks has been waned. Ritual masks exist throughout the world, and they tend to share many characteristics.

The function of the masks said to be magical or religious. They help to mediate with spirits, offer a protective role to the society who utilise their powers. Ritual masks are extremely revealing of the two fundamental aspects of the human psychological condition:

  • Firstly, as the repression of a cooperative and instinctive self or souls.
  • Secondly, the extremely angry state of the unjustly condemned conscious thinking egocentric intellect
Ritual Masks and Region

The mask changes with the region. And we are going to have a tour of them.

Africa

There are a wide variety of masks used in Africa.

In West Africa, masks are used in masquerades that form part of religious ceremonies, enacted to communicate with spirits and ancestors. For examples, mask of the masquerades of the Yoruba, Igbo, and Edocultures, including Egungun Masquerades and Northern Edo Masquerades.

Yorba Mask
Igbo Mask
Edo Culture Mask

These masks are usually carved with an extraordinary skills and variety by artists, who have received their training as an apprentice to a master carver – frequently it is a tradition that has been passed down within a family through many generations. Such an artist holds a respectful position in tribal society because of the work that he or she creates, embodying not only complex craft techniques but also spiritual/social and symbolic knowledge.

Djolé (also known as Jolé or Yolé) is a mask-dance from Temine people in Sierra Leone. Males wear the mask, although it does depict a female.
Many African masks represent animals. Some African tribes believe that the animal masks can help them communicate with the spirits who live in forests or open savannas.


The antelope masks are rough rectangular boxes with several horns coming out of the top.

Masks, also represents a culture’s ideal of feminine beauty. The masks of Punu of Gabon have highly arched eyebrows, almost almond-shaped eyes and a narrow chin. The raised strip running from both sides of the nose to the ears represent jewellery. One of the most beautiful representations of female beauty is the Idia‘s Mask of Benin in present-day Edo State of Nigeria. It is believed to have been commissioned by a king of Benin in memory of his mother. To honor his dead mother, the king wore the mask on his hip during special ceremonies.
The Senoufo people of the Ivory Coastrepresent tranquility by making masks with eyes half-shut and lines drawn near the mouth. The Temne of Sierra Leone use masks with small eyes and mouths to represent humility and humbleness. They represent wisdom by making bulging forehead. The Grebo of the Ivory Coast and Liberia carve masks with round eyes to represent alertness and anger, with the straight nose to represent unwillingness to retreat.

North America

Arctic Coastal groups tends towards simple religious practice but a highly evolved and rich mythology, especially concerning hunting. In some areas, annual shamanic ceremonies involved masked dances and these strongly abstracted masks are arguably the most striking artifacts produced in this region.

Pacific Northwest Coastal indigenous groups were generally high skilled wood workers. Their masks were often master-pieces of carving, sometimes with movable jaws or a mask within a mask, and parts moved by pulling cords. The carving of masks was an important feature of wood craft, along with many other features that often combined the utilitarian with the symbolic.


The Iroquois made spectacular wooden ‘false face’ masks, used in healing ceremonies and carved from living trees. These masks appear in a great variety of shapes, depending on their precise function.

The Kachinas take the form of highly distinctive and elaborate masks that are used in ritual dances. These are usually made of leather with appendages of fur, feathers or leaves. Some cover the face, some the whole head and are often highly abstracted forms.

Asia

India/Sri Lanka/Indo China

The masks here, are exaggerat, formalise and share an aesthetic carved images of monstrous heads that dominate the facades of Hindu and Buddhist temples. These faces or Kirtimukhas, ‘Visages of Glory’, are intended toward off evil and are associated with the animal world as well as the divine. During ceremonies, these visages are given active form in the great mask dramas of the South and South-eastern Asian region.

Indonesia

In Indonesia, the mask dance predates Hindu-Buddhist influences. It is believed that the use of masks is related to the cult of the ancestors, which considered dancers the interpreters of the gods. Native Indonesian tribes such as Dayak have masked Hudoq dance that represents nature spirits. In Java and Bali, masked dance is commonly called topeng and demonstrated Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. The native story of Panji also popular in topeng masked dance.

China

In China, masks are thought to have originated in ancient religious ceremonies. Shigong dance masks were used in shamanic rituals to thank the gods while nuo dance masks protected from bad spirits. Wedding masks were used for good luck and a lasting marriage, and “Swallowing Animal” masks were associated with protecting the home and symbolised the “swallowing” of disaster. Opera masks were used in a basic ‘Common’ form of opera performed without a stage or backdrops.

Korea

Korean masks are associated with shamanism and in ritual dance. These were used in war, on both soldiers and their horses – ceremonially, for burial rites in jade and bronze and for shamanistic ceremonies to drive away evil spirits, to remember the faces of great historical figures in death masks and in the arts – particularly in ritual dances, courtly, and theatrical plays.

Japan

Japanese masks are part of a very old and highly sophisticated and stylized theatrical tradition. Although the roots are in prehistoric myths and cults, they have developed into refined art forms. The oldest masks are the gigaku. The bugaku developed from this – a complex dance-drama that used masks with moveable jaws.The or noh mask evolved from the gigaku and bugaku and are acted entirely by men. The masks are worn throughout very long performances and are consequently very light.

Europe

Masks are used throughout Europe, and are frequently integrated into regional folk celebrations and customs. Many of the masks used in European festivals belong to the contrasting categories of the ‘good’, or ‘idealised beauty’, set against the ‘ugly’ or ‘beastly’ and grotesque. This is particularly true of the Germanic and Central European festivals.
The oldest representations of masks are animal masks, such as the cave paintings of Lascaux in the Dordogne in southern France. Such masks survive in the alpine regions of Austria and Switzerland, and are connected with hunting or shamanism. These are associated with the New Year and Carnival festivals. Another tradition of European masks developed more self-consciously from court and civic events, entertainments managed by guilds and co-fraternities.

Thus, we can see the mask depicts it’s own meaning with the region. It has represented the culture beautifully and with no flaw, it holds it’s beauty and boldness.

Now, the tour of “The Quartet Region Mask” has came to an end.

Hope you enjoyed the journey.

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