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Masks, Tradition and Commercialism

Updated on March 26, 2012



Curiosity of Masks

Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by masks. A mask can be the vessel used to step outside oneself and into another realm or characteristic. Some masks were created to celebrate the dead, others were created to call upon deities and the power they hold to help or to hurt. Masks are created and worn by many cultures on this planet.

In African culture creation of masks for ceremonial and ritual purposes were long ago taught by a father to his son. The artists of the masks held a very special status. The symbolism of the mask was taught to the person creating the mask. The knowledge of symbolism allowed the creator to put the energy of the symbolism into the mask. In most African cultures the person wearing the mask loses their identity and becomes the spirit represented by the mask. In the ritual or ceremony there is usually dance and music which helps call the spirit and causes the person to lose their identity and take on the identity of the spirit. Some ceremonies include weddings, funerals, and initiation rights. In African culture usually men such as chiefs, warriors, witch doctors or kings wore masks.

In Japanese culture archeological evidence supports masks have been used as long ago as 10,000 B.C. They were created and worn for ritual and performance. In Japanese culture masks represent people, heroes, devils, ghosts, animals and deities. Early masks were created out of clay or cloth. Masks were used for magic rituals, religion, shaman ceremonies, as well as funeral and talisman purposes. The Gigaku the oldest masks, were used in an ancient dance originating in Korea and being introduced in Japan in the 7th century. The dramas consisted of mimes and processions set to music to act out the performance. The masks carved with dramatic expressions covered the whole head, were made of wood, had hair pasted on them and represented lions, bird, demons or superhuman creatures. Bugaku masks worn in performances in traditional court music are made of cypress wood and only covered the performers face. The expressions are not as exaggerated.

Native Aboriginals of the United States created masks for medicinal, spiritual and entertainment purposes. It is believed masks that represent animals while worn during specific rituals, would cause the person wearing the mask to take on the characteristics of the animal. It is believed the spirit of the animal would enter the person wearing the mask. Masks were used by shamans, and warrior societies as well as by those to induct a younger person coming of age into the tribe. The rituals were sacred to the societies performing them and were for their eyes only. Shamans wore masks to represent or conjure creation or war. Potlatch is a ceremony celebrated by two or more tribes where the chiefs of the tribes would exchange gifts to show the wealth and generosity of the tribe. The tribes would exchange gifts and have a feast. Dances were performed to tell stories. The people performing the dance would wear the masks given by the chiefs to act out the stories. These ceremonies celebrated sharing and coming together. Tribes recognized and respected their differences and the strength of coming together.

Commercialism of these masks has become wide spread and has somewhat lessened the traditional meanings of these masks and the importance of them in culture. With many cultures becoming extinct for one reason or another we are lucky to know the uses of masks on this planet by aboriginal people for celebrations, funerals, calling of deities, war dances or simply entertainment. These ceremonies or rituals celebrated a simpler time where aboriginals co-existed with the Earth, called on the Earth, the gods, deities, and the animal spirits for help in creation, war, and celebration of those passed on. Many cultures across the planet used masks to celebrate many of the same beliefs in different ways. Hopefully these beautiful spiritual celebrations and traditions of co-existence never fade out. Commercialism can fade things and bury traditions simply because the person purchasing the mask likes how it looks and doesn't think to go any further into exploring or respecting where they came from. With that said, I'm going to do a lot more exploration myself. Thank you for reading.

Teotihuacan (AD 100-650) Mexico



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    • Amethystraven profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading Seeker7. I'm glad Andrew found an avenue to perform drama. Drama can unleash so many aspects of a person.I hope he learned a lot from drama, and I hope he's still enjoying it. I've found masks to be very interesting, especially those that are for protection. They seem to be the most fierce looking masks.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      What a wonderful hub! I have to say that for me masks can be fascinating but also scary at times. But it's really interesting how far back in history they go and that they are used by so many different cultures!

      A friend of mine whose son (Andrew) was studying drama at a local college, told us about a class that he had attended early on in his studies. Andrew said he was very nervous about performing to the point that it was making him ill but drama was something he felt he had to do. Anyway, this class, one of the first, was about self image and confidence. The drama tutor had designed masks for all the students. Andrew told us that, on putting the mask on, it was like a complete transformation. He felt confident and began to really enjoy the drama class. But what is more interesting is that, during the rest of the course, and using a visualisation technique, Andrew felt that prior to performances he could once again mentally put this mask on to calm himself down - and it worked every time.

      I really enjoyed this wonderful hub of yours + voted up!!

    • Amethystraven profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      I love masks. There are so many from all over the world. Every culture I've read about that uses masks, uses them in the same way. They are a beautiful part of culture because of the power they invoke and the symbolism they hold.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      My whole wall in my frontroom is covered by masks! lol! I love them, and collect them everywhere I go. They are the Venetian style, used in Masked Balls, and I love them, fascinating hub, cheers nell

    • Amethystraven profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      I myself would like to go to a masquerade ball. I have never been. They seem so interesting and mysterious. I'm glad you found my hub interesting. I'm looking forward to reading more of yours.

    • Amethystraven profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading and thanks for the warm welcome :-)

    • dmop profile image


      6 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      We all wear masks of one sort or another, perhaps not so much literally any more but symbolically more so than ever before in history. We hide behind our computers and make believe we are something we are not and operate under false pretenses in our every day lives. Great article I voted it up and interesting.

    • CR Rookwood profile image

      Pamela Hutson 

      6 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Interesting hub! Strange how sometimes a mask can help a person to feel more authentic. I've always been fascinated by them. BTW welcome to Hub Pages!


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