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African Masks: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Do you like learning about different cultures and how they dress for celebrations? Well, come and learn about African masks. This lesson will focus on their purpose, the different types of African masks, stylistic characteristics, and how you can make your own.

The Purpose of African Masks

What do you wear when you go to a party? You might put on your favorite outfit or wear a birthday hat. In traditional African ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, and spiritual events, masks are often worn as part of their costume for the ceremony. People believe that this tradition started before the Paleolithic era, which began millions of years ago, and continues today.

In many ways, wearing an African mask is a spiritual experience. It all begins with the artist who makes the mask. It is considered to be a huge honor to be the one who creates the mask. In fact, the artists are held in high regard in the African village because it is believed that he is connected with the spiritual world. The mask maker passes this skill down to his sons.

Then, the specialness continues with the person who gets to wear the mask. Only certain people are selected to wear the mask, and it is usually a man or an elderly person. The mask itself is also important because it often reflects the cultural values of the village, as well as a spiritual meaning.

Types of African Masks

Just like other articles of clothing, African masks come in a wide variety. First, their structural type is different. Some African masks are face masks, which are the most common type of African mask. Other types of African masks take on the shape of a headdress where the person just wears it atop their head. There are also African masks that are helmets, shoulder masks, and forehead masks.

Masks with different emotions
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African masks will also look different depending on what region or tribe they are from. For example, Lulua artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo design masks that have beautifully intricate tattoos and geometric shapes on them. They are typically reddish in color and have pointed tops that that mimic the hairstyle worn by Lulua people. Baule masks (also known as Goli masks) are known for their circular faces, horns, and a rectangular mouth. The face shape represents the sun and the horns represent a strong buffalo.

Stylistic Characteristics

While are some differences between masks, there are also some common themes. For one thing, many of the masks are combinations of humans and animals, such as elephants, jackals, monkeys, and crocodiles. Each animal means something different, such as the antelope which represents growing better crops. Another popular theme of the African mask is to celebrate women with unique hairstyles, long eyelashes, and pretty teeth.

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