Sunday, April 29, 2007
What are masks ?
Mask is the wrong word in French, and even worse in English, but no one has come up with a better substitute yet. Christopher Roy has an excellent online introduction. An extract, « At their initiation ceremony, initiates learn the meanings of the geometric signs that cover the masks, explained by elders, who use the masks themselves as models, and who also use rectangular boards on which the same signs have been painted. Initially, each of the signs is explained independently of other signs, using didactic boards. Then the meanings of the assembled signs on specific plank masks are explained. The combination of signs communicates a moral or historical lesson that is an essential part of the initiation. These lessons describe the virtues of the ideal, respected member of the community, and the dangers of straying from the path of social behavior marked out by the ancestors. They also illustrate the myths of the founding of the clans. The meaning of each sign can vary depending on the age and level of understanding of the initiate, for only the oldest understand the most profound meanings of the signs. »
Photo: U.S. Ambassador Jeanine Jackson next to an alligator mask, Dohoun village library