What do you see in the crown of this mask? They are very abstract, but you should be able to see a lot of spiders! The round knobs represent spider bodies with legs stretching out to meet the legs of surrounding spiders. In many African cultures, spiders signify royalty and wisdom and are associated with the knowledge of the ancestors. This mask was created and used by the Bamum or Bamileke peoples of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon. Masks like this one are owned and used by prominent families and by an important society of men (called Kwifoyn) who make and enforce guidelines to help organize and protect the community. These men wear the masks during commemorative death celebrations for past kings (Fons) and important community members and at the kingdom's annual dance, a time of celebration during the festive cycle of the dry season. A defined series of masks (e.g. male mask followed by female mask followed by animal mask, etc.) appear during a performance. The wearers of the masks, men of the Kwifoyn Society born within important lineages, wear full body costumes to conceal their identities. (Expressions of Cameroon Art by Tamara Northern, 1986.) Certain features of masks are symbolic of community ideals or values. For example, the bulbous cheeks and eyes of this mask denote beauty. The bands of small connected ovals at the top of the forehead represent cowrie shells which bring good luck and abundance to those who wear them.
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
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Africa -- Social life and customs
Africa -- Religious life and customs
Bamileke (African people)
Bamileke (African people) -- Rites and ceremonies
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