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African Tribal Art Masks

Updated on January 15, 2015

Popular African Tribal Masks

Masks have long been the most recognized and popular form of African art. Over time African masks have evolved from been an integral part of African culture and traditions to souvenir tourist art. While few African people still practice their ancient traditions in which masks play a revered role it is still possible to find authentic, ancient African masks in these modern times. One can witness masks in use during festivals or entertainment events in some African villages. It is also possible to buy masks however, like all rare objects ancient African masks are expensive and are mostly found in museums or private collections. Fortunately, there are also affordable African masks that are sold online and in many African countries. This lens examines some of the more popular and common African tribal masks. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia: Mulwalwa African Tribal Mask by Andreas Praefcke.

Fang African Tribal Ngil Mask
Fang African Tribal Ngil Mask

Fang Masks

Ngil Masks

The Fang people come from southern Gabon which is located in West-Central Africa. Ngil masks from Gabon are among the most recognized and popular African masks. It is believed Picasso's art in particular "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," was influenced by Ngil masks. Within the Fang tribe Ngil masks were worn by members of the Ngi male secret society during initiation ceremonies and when seeking out wrongdoers. Authentic Ngil masks are rare and very expensive however one can find replicas at a cheaper price. In general Ngil masks feature an elongated face painted in white with features outlined in black.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia: Fang Ngil African Tribal Mask by Jastrow.

Fang African Masks at Amazon

Bwa African Art Masks
Bwa African Art Masks

Bwa Masks

Bwa masks are very popular and my personal favorites. I love the color and geometric shapes in these masks as well as the elegance and beauty of them. The Bwa people are found in Burkina Faso and Mali in West Africa. Like many other African tribes the Bwa believe their masks have special powers which are controlled by the wearers. There are a number of famous Bwa masks which include the butterfly masks, serpent masks, hawk masks and plank shaped masks. Bwa masks usually incorporate animal features, geometric patterns and red, white and black colors. The masks are used in initiation ceremonies, harvest celebrations and funeral rites and are believed to have protective properties.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia: Bwa African Tribal Mask by Wegmann.

Miniature Metal Art Masks - Handmade Metal Art Cards

Bwa Sun Mask: Handmade Miniature Metal Art Cards
Bwa Sun Mask: Handmade Miniature Metal Art Cards

Handmade metal art card featuring Bwa African Sun Mask at

Dan Deangle African Tribal Mask
Dan Deangle African Tribal Mask

Dan Masks

Deangle Masks

The Dan people come from Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea and Liberia in West Africa. Masks were extremely important among the Dan people and were used for a variety of functions including rituals, pre-war ceremonies, peace-making ceremonies and entertainment. The Dan also were known for carrying passport masks which were copies of family masks. These passport masks were carried for personal protection while away from home. Dan masks are empowered by spirit forces called "gle" and thus it is common to find the masks having names like deangle or takangle. The Deangle mask as illustrated in the picture is used to teach, entertain, nurture and support peaceful activities in the village. Deangle masks tend to have an oval face, high forehead, pouting mouth and pointed chin. They are often covered in a rich brown dye and may have scar marks forming a vertical line in the forehead.

Wikimedia African Mask Pictures: Deangle Dan Mask .

Punu Mukudj African Tribal Mask
Punu Mukudj African Tribal Mask

Punu Masks

Okuye, Mukuyi and Mukudj Masks

The Punu people reside along the banks of Upper Ngoume River in Gabon. Punu masks stand out from other African masks due to their Oriental appearance. The masks are representative of the idealized beauty of Punu women. They feature elaborate tall hairdos, nine diamond shaped scar marks on the forehead and almond shaped eyes with arched brows. Some of the masks feature horizontal lines running from ear to ear which are representative of jewelry. They are often painted white with Kaolin clay to represent the spirit world, although there are also less common black Punu masks. The black masks may have played a different role of judgement. White Punu masks aka known as Okuye, Mukuyi or Mukudj masks are worn by men in Punu and Lumbo cultures to represent spirits of dead maidens. Dancers wearing the masks also adorn stilts and carry whips.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia: Punu Mukudj African Tribal Mask .

Senufo Kpelie African Tribal Art Mask
Senufo Kpelie African Tribal Art Mask

Senufo Masks

Kpelie Masks

The Senufo people live in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali in West Africa. They have a variety of masks which are used for different functions. Senufo masks are created by artisans who do not reside within the village and are highly esteemed due to the power embodied in their creations. The Senufo like many other African tribes believe that masks can be used for communication between the living and the dead. In general Senufo masks combine animal and human features. They are commonly used for initiation rites by the Poro male society. The kpelie mask in the illustration features a human face with projections it is used to remind initiates of human imperfections. It is worn by male dancers who perform as female characters.

Wikimedia Pictures of Masks: Senufo Kpelie African Tribal Mask by Hannes Grobe.

Favorite African Tribal Masks

Chi Wara Mask
Chi Wara Mask

What is your favorite African tribal mask

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      1 word amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • kigali-crafts profile image

      kigali-crafts 5 years ago

      These are amazing, thanks so much for sharing.

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      I just bought my first African mask when I was working in Kenya this month. It aroused my curiosity for the subject - fascinating!!

    • LuciaGhettoArt profile image

      LuciaGhettoArt 6 years ago

      Thanks, interesting subject! Good lens!

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 6 years ago

      The sad part is that all the original African Art is in Museums in Europe and the States

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 6 years ago

      Glimpse of a culture that is both familiar and alien. Wonderful lens.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 6 years ago

      very cool page, thanks so much for sharing this.

    • profile image

      presentsandgiftsgalore 6 years ago

      I am obsessed with masks and these are great!

    • profile image

      celeBritys4africA 6 years ago

      I like your lens, well done.

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 6 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! We're studying Africa in geography right now. It's nice getting to see all these masks in one location.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      These are so cool looking! Thanks for sharing them! :)

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 6 years ago

      Great selection of amazing masks. I really like your descriptions on the different types of masks and what the tribes people used them for, very interesting. I have a few African art masks at home but none are authentic, I do have an authentic Aboriginal shield and boomerang though. Nice lens.

    • profile image

      VoodooRULEs 6 years ago

      Wonderful Lens! THANK YOU!

    • Injete profile image

      Injete 6 years ago

      @Lynne-Modranski: Hi thanks and glad you enjoyed the lens.

    • Injete profile image

      Injete 6 years ago

      @mirandapaulbooks: Hi Miranda thanks. African masks are great for home décor they add character to a room as well as been a great conversation piece.

    • profile image

      mirandapaulbooks 6 years ago

      This is great! I have quite a few African masks in my home, and used to write a lot for - have you ever heard of them? Great folks there with amazing masks for sale. Like this lens a lot!

    • Lynne-Modranski profile image

      Lynne Modranski 7 years ago from Ohio

      Great info and Great Pics! Thanks for sharing!

    • Injete profile image

      Injete 7 years ago

      @ewguru lm: Hi "ewguru" thanks for the comment and blessings :-) Glad you enjoyed the lens.

    • ewguru lm profile image

      ewguru lm 7 years ago

      fun lens about masks thanks for sharing

    • Injete profile image

      Injete 7 years ago

      @bluedogs92: Hi "Bluedogs" glad to be of help. Amazon has all sorts of stuff.

    • profile image

      bluedogs92 7 years ago

      I had NO idea these type items were available on Amazon! Thanks!