Plays a significant role in beliefs of the Bambara and Dogon people of
Mali.The Bambara use antelope masks and headdresses in initiation ceremonies
and harvest rituals. Its most popular example is a mask representing
power of Chiwara (Tyiwara) spirit, guardian of the harvest.
Dogon dancers belonging to the Awa Society, wear antelope
masks when chasing away bad spirit of dead to the bush or forest outside
their village.The Ogoni people of Nigeria are using antelope masks in
the "karikpo" dances during annual harvest ceremonies.
Buffalo is always treated with great respect, because of its strength
and size. Buffalo features suggest a brave and strong man. The Tussian
people of Burkina Faso carve a characteristic buffalo mask with
a square face and stylized horns. The "Goli-Goulin" buffalo demon mask
of the Baule people of Ivory Coast is horizontally attached to the head
of the dancer who wears a whole body costume made of raffia. Sometimes,
a real buffalo horns are attached to a wooden mask, as for example,
in the art of the Bijogo people of Guinea Bissau.
According to the beliefs of the Senufo people of Ivory Coast a chameleon is one
of the five animals present at the creation of the world. It’s figure
appears very often on the masks used by the members of the Poro Society. Many
tribes (e.g. the Bambala, Basundi, Basalampasu) of Democratic Republic of Congo
(f. Zaire) regard a chameleon as a god, who can appear in different aspects
of life and always shows his knowledge and great wisdom.
Plays a significant role in beliefs of different tribes of Ivory Coast.
It comes from the past, when a group of villagers’ ancestors was saved
by this animal from being killed by enemies. They apparently ate some fruits
left by the chimpanzee and lapsed into lethargy. The enemies considered
them dead so they were left alone. Since then any chimpanzee has not been
eaten and special ceremonies are being performed with the “Gbah”(
In Benin a figure of cock was very often placed on altar. Its role was
highly protective, however, the cock was also apparently able to spy
on dynastic plotting.
A powerful guardian of justice in Lesotho. A symbol of death in Zimbabwe.
The long jaw crocodile mask is thought to protect the Dogon people
of Mali from bad fluids that emanate from a slain crocodile. In
many equatorial tribes, however, a crocodile is believed to be a
symbol of treacherous and evil spirit and people use crocodile masks
in their rituals to frighten those spirits and cast them out.
For the Abomey people of Benin the crocodile represents their mythical
sun-god, Lisa. For the Ijaw (Ijo) people of Nigeria crocodiles were
considered messengers of river or lake deities. Masks were worn
on a top of the head horizontally, so it looked as if they were
floating when the wearer walked into the water.
The Yorube and Villi tribes in DRC seem role of a dog as a protector of
families by giving warning of danger.
Its horns posses magic power and for this qualities they are being
used by, for example, the Mende people of Sierra Leone in their helmet masks.
Elephant features (tusks, trunk
and big ears) attached to human face are used in creation of the mask by
variety of tribes e.g. the Baule-Yaure or Guru people of Ivory Coast. It symbolizes
high political authority. Their elephant masks are worn by chiefs and the
oldest in the village. The Ashanti people of Ghana regard an elephant as a kind
and noble creature.
It is a symbol of peace and fertility in beliefs of the Abomey people of Benin.
In African mythology symbolizes the agile and smart mind.
It is a valuable animal in any African village. In a form of mask,
it was danced by the Ogoni people of Nigeria during agrarian ceremonies and
A sharp and shrewd animal finds a place in sculptures of the Yoruba
people of Nigeria. Their helmet masks, carved mainly for the
use of the Egungun society, have often the Yoruba talking
drum between the long ears of hare.
A hornbill is considered a symbol of fertility by the Senufo people of
Ivory Coast. The long beak symbolizes the male sexual organ. To the Guro people
of Ivory Cost and the Bwa people of Burkina Faso a hornbill symbolizes elements
favourable to hunting and the appropriate masks are worn for the occasion.
Guerre-Wobe of Liberia "koposki" mask combines human features with the beak
of a hornbill. It was mainly used to encourage communal work in the village
but also to cast spells.
Used by the Senufo people of Ivory Coast in rituals to combat sorcery.
Hyena is regarded as guardian animal by agricultural Kore society
of the Bambara tribe in Mali. Masks with hyena images are used there
at initiation ceremonies and also at agricultural festivities.
In the mythology of the Dogon people of Mali the jackal is the first born
from the union of the sky-god Amma and the Earth. His mother gave him the
gift of speach, which made him the god of diviners. By means of dancing
he reveals the will of Creator. Jackals are regarded as very sharp and quick
but cunning creatures.
These animals were keenly observed by African tribal people and
are often shown in African tribal art not only for their beauty
and ornamental quality but also for their potent symbolism. For
example, in ancient Benin only kings could hunt a leopard because,
as king of beasts, this animal was a metaphor for the very institution
of kingship. For the same reason, a sitting animal surmounted on
the top of a mask symbolizes power and chief's authority in beliefs
of the Baule people of Ivory Coast. In Zaire, where the leopard is a
royal symbol, only kings were allowed to sit on a throne covered
with leopard skin. A headdress made of leopard skin was equal to
a crown. A similar role has a leopard in beliefs of the Bamileke tribe
This animal represents a great power in the beliefs of the Ashanti
people of Ghana.
In beliefs of the Bamoum people of Cameroon and the Ogoni people of Nigeria
a lizard is a symbol of alertness and protection against evil spirits.
Monkey mask, often decorated with animal fur was created mainly for
entertainment. The wearer of the mask played the role of village clown (Kaogle
monkey mask of the Dan people, Ivory Coast). the Nkanu people of Zaire, however,
use monkey figures and masks at the opening of initiation ceremony. In many
tribes a monkey is admired for its intelligence.
In majority of African tribes the call of the owl is associated
with bad luck or death.
For people in Ghana and Ivory Coast a porcupine signifies the
invincible warrior but is also associated with chief's power.
Similarly, it also increases a fighting strength for Ashanti warriors.
For the Owo people of Nigeria it represents an ancestor and, for this reason, is often placed
on a family altar. The Yoruba people of Nigeria believe that the ram is sacred to Shango, their god
of storms. Ram's head with heavy horns represents a bush spirit for some tribes.
It was used at burials or at the initiations of new members into the secret society
by the Bobo-Fing people of Burkina Faso and Mali.
Snakes enjoy a special position in African beliefs.They seem to
have a relationship with the spirits, they are inhabited by spirits
or are the spirits themselves. In some parts of Africa snakes are
regarded as messengers of the ancestors, hence they important role
in society. A superior of all snakes, the serpent of eternity is
mysterious and immortal (it sheds its skin, but still continues to live).
The legend says, that when God created all things, the divine snake
coiled itself around the earth to keep it firm. When it shifts his position,
there is an earthquake. The Baga people of Guinea have a painted, almost 2m long
wooden figure representing a divine snake. Two-headed snake appears as a royal
emblem in tribal carvings of the Bamileke tribe of Cameroon.
A symbol of death for the Ashanti people of Ghana.
Particularly their six-legged specimens were considered insects
of mythic significance by the
Bamoum people of Cameroon Grasslands.