The History of African Masquerades

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Despite its widespread popularity, the history of African masquerades has been surprisingly sparse. Although masquerades are a well-established part of African culture, they have also been the subject of much debate. The aim of Homann's analysis is to provide a framework for future historical studies of the African masquerade. The book also draws attention to the uneven distribution of new forms and debates around them in other times and places.


African masquerades are a vibrant art form that originated in Central Africa. The purpose of masquerades varies, but most are performed to display power, promote fertility, and connect humans with the spirit world. Participants wear elaborate masks that represent supernatural creatures and spirits. Masks can be human or animal, or hybridized. Each mask represents a culture's values, and the costumes are often constructed of wood, feathers, fiber, and metal.

Masks' reception

African masquerades' reception is dependent on their performance and aesthetics. The Okumkpo masquerade is a traditional public performance that is held in a sacred playground known as the Ogo. It is a popular destination for the common people. The performance is marked by masked dancers and the use of traditional instruments and rhetoric. These elements combine to create a beautiful and rhythmic symphony.

Masks' meaning

Lisa Homann investigates the ways in which African masquerades are shaped by individuals in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, since the mid-1990s. In particular, she investigates the meaning of portrait masks, which were invented in 1996 to honor the departed. These masks are carved from photographs of the deceased. Homann also explores the controversy surrounding the use of these masks.

Masks' function

There is little question as to why African masquerades masks have mythical overtones. They are used for public celebration, to commemorate the dead, and to gain the blessing of the ancestors. The art of carving these intricate masks is essential to these celebrations, as they are often passed down through generations. Some carving tools even possess the spirit of a previous owner. In other words, each mask is an extension of a ritual, and the act of carving it becomes a way to honor that person's spirit.

Masks' makers

The history of African masquerade has been studied from a number of different angles. In the past, scholars have focused on examining particular groups and their underlying traditions. They have tended to frame analyses in terms of singular ethnic or cultural groups and looked for common characteristics among them. Often, scholars implied that each group had a shared mythical past, common language, and social organization. Today, we can see how these differences in culture can result in a different history for African masquerades.

August 26, 2022



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