The Makonde straddle the border of Tanzania and Mozambique, and, while helmet masks are the dominant mask form for Mozambican Makonde, face masks are associated with Tanzanian Makonde. For both groups, masqueraders perform at the ends of boys’ and girls’ initiations into adulthood. Among the Tanzanian Makonde, these masqueraders are said to impersonate human and animal spirits, each with its own distinctive mask, costume, and accouterments. Masks that are smaller than a person’s face, such as this one, are frequently worn by men dancing on stilts, who cover their heads and necks with cloth, attaching the masks to the upper parts of their faces. Their performances depict scenes from daily life, such as clearing a field for farming and collecting honey. The semi-circular projection under the nose depicts a lip plug, an ornament traditionally worn by Makonde women.
Makonde peoples, Tanzania
H. 6 5/8 in. (16.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 79.91