Afrihave the right to Art and also the Spirit World

Beliefs around the heart civilization are deeply installed in typical African culture, but were greatly influenced by Christianity and Islam.

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Learning Objectives

Discuss the role of African masks, statues, and sculptures in relation to the spirit world

Key Takeaways

Key PointsMany standard African societies encompass beliefs around the heart people, which is commonly stood for through both typical and modern art such as masks, statues, and sculptures.Wooden masks are regularly supplied to depict divine beings or ancestors; in many kind of legacies, they are thought to channel spirits as soon as worn by ceremonial dancers.Statues and also sculptures are additionally supplied to reexisting, connect to, or communicate via spiroutine forces.Today, Africans profess a vast variety of spiritual beliefs, the a lot of common of which are Christianity and Islam; maybe much less than 15% still follow traditional Afrideserve to religious beliefs.In spite of the drastic decrease in native Afrideserve to religions, some contemporary art in Africa has operated to reincorporate conventional spiroutine beliefs, such as in contemporary Makonde Art showing spirits.Key Termsreceptacle: A container.sanctuaries: Consecrated (or sacred) locations of a church or temple.


Like all huguy societies, African folklore and also religious beliefs is diverse and varied. Culture and also spirituality share space and are deeply intertwined in a lot of African cultures, which have been heavily affected by the introduction of Christianity and Islam in the time of the era of European colonization. Many typical African cultures incorporate beliefs around the heart civilization, which is widely stood for via both typical and also modern art such as masks, statues, and also sculptures. In some societies, creative talents were themselves viewed as means to please greater spirits.

Timeless Influences on Conshort-term Religious Art

Masks and also Rituals

Wooden masks, which frequently take the create of animals, people, or mythical creatures, are one of the the majority of generally found forms of standard art in western Africa. These masks are frequently used to depict divine beings or reexisting the souls of the departed. They may be worn by a dancer in ceremonies for celebrations, deaths, initiations, or crop harvesting. In many conventional mask ceremonies, the dancer goes right into deep trance, and during this state of mind he or she is believed to communicate with ancestors in the soul people. The masks themselves regularly recurrent an ancestral soul, which is thought to possess the wearer of the mask. Most Afrihave the right to masks are made via wood and deserve to likewise be decorated via cream color, animal hair, plant fibers, pigments, stones, and also semi-valuable gems.

Mask from Gabon: A standard mask from Gabon.

Statues and sculptures are likewise used to recurrent or affix to spiritual forces. For example, Bambara statuettes, such as the Chiwara, are offered as spiritually charged objects during ritual. Throughout the yearly ceremonies of the Guan culture, a group of approximately seven figures, some dating ago to the 14th century, are removed from their sanctuaries by the elder members of the culture. The wood sculptures, which represent a highly stylized pet or humale figure, are wamelted, re-oiled and also available sacrifices. The Kono and Komo societies usage similar statues to serve as receptacles for spiritual forces. The Igbo would certainly traditionally make clay altars and shrines of their deities, normally featuring various figures. In the Kingdom of Kongo, nkisi were objects believed to be inhabited by spirits. Often sculpted in the shape of animals or human beings, these “power objects” were believed to aid assist in the interaction through the soul civilization.

Modern Religion

Today, the countries of Africa contain a broad array of spiritual beliefs, and also statistics on spiritual affiliation are tough to come by. Christianity and Islam consist of the biggest religions in contemporary Africa, and some sources say that less than 15% still follow conventional Afrihave the right to religions. In spite of the drastic decrease in native African faiths, some contemporary art in Africa has operated to reincorpoprice traditional spiritual ideas. For example, contemporary Makonde Art has turned to abstract figures in which spirits, or Shetani, play a crucial role.

Modern Makonde carving in ebony: Modern Makonde sculptures often depict spirits, or Shetani.

Key Takeaways

Key PointsThe Kalabari Kingdom was an independent trading state of the Kalabari human being, an Ijaw ethnic group, in the Niger River Delta. Today it is recognized as a typical state in what is now Rivers State, Nigeria.Although the Ijaw are currently mainly Christians, they likewise maintain elaborate traditional religious practices.Veneration of ancestors plays a main function in Ijaw standard religious beliefs, while water spirits figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. In enhancement, the Ijaw practice a form of divination in which freshly deceased people are interrogated on the reasons of their death.The duty of prayer in the conventional Ijaw device of belief is to maintain the living in the great graces of the water spirits among whom they dwelt before being born into this civilization.Each year, the Ijaw organize celebrations including masquerades that last for several days in honor of the spirits.Ijaw men wearing intricate outfits and also carved masks dance to the beat of drums and also manifest the influence of the water spirits via the top quality and intensity of their dancing.Key Termsenculturation: The procedure through which an individual adopts the habits fads of the culture in which he or she is immersed.kin: Race; family; breed; type.

Introduction: The Kalabari

The Kalabari Kingdom, likewise dubbed Elem Kalabari (New Shipping Port), or New Calabar by the Europeans, was an independent trading state of the Kalabari people, an Ijaw ethnic team, in the Niger River Delta. Today it is recognized as a traditional state in what is now Rivers State, Nigeria. As well as participating in trade, the Ijaw have actually traditionally been a fishing and also farming culture.

Culture and Art

Although the Ijaw are now mainly Christians (95% profess to be), via Roguy Catholicism and Anglicanism being the ranges of Christianity a lot of widespread among them, they also keep sophisticated standard religious practices. Veneration of ancestors plays a central function in Ijaw standard religion, while water spirits, recognized as Owuamapu, figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. In addition, the Ijaw exercise a type of divination dubbed Igbadai, in which recently deceased people are interrogated on the causes of their death. The Ijaw are also recognized to practice routine acculturation, through which an individual from a different and unconnected team undergoes rites to end up being Ijaw.

The Role of Ijaw Masks

Ijaw spiritual beliefs host that water spirits are prefer people, having personal staminas and also shortcomings, and also that people dwell among the water spirits before being born. Each year, the Ijaw organize celebrations lasting for a number of days in honor of the spirits. Central to the festivities is the role of masquerades, in which guys wearing elaborate outfits and carved masks dance to the beat of drums and also manifest the affect of the water spirits through the quality and also intensity of their dancing. Particularly spectacular masqueraders are thought to be possessed by the certain spirits on whose behalf they are dancing.

ljaw mask: Mask, Kalabari Ijo individuals, Nigeria, beforehand 20th century, wood, pigment (National Museum of Afrihave the right to Art).

Key Takeaways

Key PointsThe Dogon are an ethnic team living in the central plateau region of the nation of Mali, in the West of the Afrideserve to continent, and also are famous for their distinct sculptures. Dogon sculptures are not made to be viewed publicly and are frequently covert from the public eye within the dwellings of households, sanctuaries, or the hogon (spiroutine leader).Dogon sculptures are frequently characterized by an elongation of create and a mix of geometric and figurative images.The Dogon style has developed right into a kind of cubism: ovoid head, squared shoulders, tapered extremities, pointed breasts, forearms and thighs on a parallel aircraft, and also hair stylized by 3 or four incised lines.Key Termsvessel: A general term for all kinds of craft designed for transport on water, such as ships or watercrafts.Tellem: The human being that inhabited the Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali from the 11th with 1sixth centuries CE.

Introduction: The Dogon People

The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the main plateau region of the country of Mali, in the West of the Afrihave the right to continent. They migrated to the area roughly the 14th century CE. They are ideal well-known for their spiritual traditions, wooden sculpture, architecture, and also funeral masquerades. The past century has checked out substantial alters in the social organization, material society, and ideas of the Dogon, partially bereason Dogon country is just one of Mali’s significant tourist attractions.

Dogon Sculpture

Dogon art is primarily sculptural and revolves about religious worths, ideals, and also freedoms. Dogon sculptures are not made to be watched publicly and are generally hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or the hogon (a spiroutine leader of the Dogon people). The importance of secrecy is as a result of the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the procedure through which they are made. Dogon sculptures are commonly defined by an elongation of form and a mix of geometric and also figurative imperiods.

Dogon Sculpture: Dogon sculptures are generally characterized by an elongation of create and a combination of geometric and figurative images.


Themes uncovered throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with increased arms, superimposed bearded numbers, horsemen, sdevices through caryatids, womales through children, numbers spanning their deals with, women grinding pearl millet, woguys bearing vessels on their heads, dontricks bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bfinishing from the waist, mirror-imeras, apron-wearing figures, and also standing numbers. Signs of various other contacts and beginnings are apparent in Dogon art; the Dogon world were not the first inhabitants of the location, and also influence from the Tellem, or the people who inhabited the area in Mali in between the 11th and also 16th centuries CE, is noticeable in the use of rectistraight deindicators.

Dogon art is incredibly versatile, although common stylistic characteristics—such as a propensity in the direction of stylization—are obvious on the statues. Their art encounters Dogon myths, whose facility ensembles regulate the life of the individual. The sculptures are preserved in innumerable sites of worship and personal or family members altars, and also frequently render the huguy body in a streamlined means, reducing it to its essentials. Many sculptures reproduce the silhouettes of the Tellem culture, featuring raised arms and a thick patina, or surchallenge layer, made of blood and millet beer. The Dogon style has actually advanced into a kind of cubism: ovoid head, squared shoulders, tapered extremities, pointed breasts, forearms and also thighs on a parallel airplane, and hair stylized by 3 or 4 incised lines.


Dogon sculptures serve as a physical tool in initiations and also as an explacountry of the world. They serve to transmit an knowledge to the initiated, that will certainly decipher the statue according to the level of their expertise. Carved animal numbers, such as dogs and ostriches, are put on village structure altars to commemorate sacrificed animals, while granary doors, sdevices, and home articles are additionally adorned through numbers and also signs. Kneeling statues of protective spirits are put at the head of the dead to absorb their spiritual stamina and also to be their intermediaries through the world of the dead, right into which they accompany the deceased before as soon as aobtain being inserted on the shrines of the ancestors.

Mendé Masks

Mendé masks are commonly used in initiation ceremonies right into key Poro and Sande cultures.

Key Takeaways

Key PointsThe Mendé people are one of the 2 largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone; they belengthy to a larger team of Mandé individuals that live throughout West Africa.The masks connected through the trick cultures of the Mendé are most likely the ideal well-known and also a lot of carefully crafted in the area.Masks reexisting the cumulative mind of Mendé community; regarded as one body, they are seen as the Spirit of the Mendé human being.The a lot of essential masks personify and embody the effective spirits belonging to the medication societies: the goboi and gbini of the Poro society (the key society for men) and the sowei of the Sande culture (the secret society for women).The features of a Sowei mask convey Mendé ideals of female principles and physical beauty; they are somewhat unusual because women wear the masks.Key Termshale: Secret cultures of the Mendé world.

Background and Art of the Mendé People

The Mendé civilization are one of the 2 largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, having actually around the exact same populace as their neighbors the Temne human being. Together, the Mendé and also Temne both account for slightly more than 30% of the country’s complete populace. The Mendé belong to a larger group of Mande individuals who live throughout West Africa. Mostly farmers and hunters, the Mendé are separated right into two groups: the halemo (or members of the hale or key societies) and also the kpowa (civilization who have never before been initiated right into the hale). The Mendé think that all humanistic and clinical power is passed dvery own via the trick societies.

Mendé art is mostly uncovered in the develop of jewelry and carvings. The masks connected via the secret cultures of the Mendé are probably the finest recognized and are finely crafted in the region. The Mendé likewise create beautifully wstove fabrics, which are well-known throughout western Africa, and gold and also silver necklaces, arm bands, armlets, and also earrings. The bells on the necklaces are of the type thought capable of being heard by spirits, ringing in both people, that of the ancestors and the living.

Mendé Masks

Masks reexisting the collective mind of the Mendé community; perceived as one body, they are viewed as the Spirit of the Mendé world. The Mendé masked figures are a reminder that humans have actually a twin existence; they live in the concrete human being of flesh and also material points as well as in the heart people of desires, confidence, aspirations, and also creative thinking.

The traditional collection of Mendé maskers includes about a dozen personalities embodying spirits of differing levels of power and prestige. The many vital of these personify and also embody the powerful spirits belonging to the medicine societies: the goboi and also gbini of the Poro culture (the secret culture for men), the sowei of the Sande society (the trick society for women), and also the njaye and humoi maskers belonging to the eponymous medicine societies. The maskers of the Sande and Poro societies are responsible for enforcing regulations and are vital symbolic presences in the rituals of initiation and also in public ceremonies that note the corocountries and funerals of chiefs and society officials.

Sowei Masks

The features of a Sowei mask convey Mendé ideals of female morality and also physical beauty. They are rather unusual in that woguys traditionally wear the masks. The bird on top of the head represents a woman’s intuition that lets her check out and also recognize points that others can’t. The high or wide forehead represents good luck or the sharp, contemplative mind of the right Mendé womale. Downactors eyes signify a spiritual nature, and also it is via these small slits that a womale wearing the mask would look out of. The tiny mouth signifies the best woman’s quiet and humble character. The marmajesties on the cheeks are representative of the decorative scars girls receive as they action right into womanhood. The neck rolls are an indication of the wellness of best women; they have likewise been called symbols of the pattern of concentric, circular ripples the Mendé spirit provides once emerging from the water. The elaborate hairstyles reveal the cshed ties within a area of woguys. The holes at the base of the mask are wbelow the remainder of the costume is attached; a woman that wears these masks must not expose any part of her body, or it is thought a vengeful soul may take possession of her.

When a girl becomes initiated right into the Sande society (the Mendé key culture for women), the village’s grasp woodcarver creates a distinct mask simply for her. Helmet masks are made from a area of tree trunk, frequently of the kpole (cotton) tree, and then carved and hollowed to fit over the wearer’s head and also challenge. The woodcarver must wait till he has actually a dream that guides him to make the mask a details means for the recipient. A mask should be retained concealed in an enigma location as soon as no one is wearing it. These masks appear not only in initiation rituals yet additionally at vital events such as funerals, arbitrations, and also the installation of chiefs.

Helmet Mendé Mask: Helmet masks of the Mendé, Vai, Gola, Bassa and other peoples of the sub-region are the ideal documented circumstances of women’s masking in Africa. These masks are supplied by the Sande association, an effective company through social, political and also religious definition. Although worn only by woguys, these masks, as is the instance elsewhere in Africa, are carved by men.

Gbini Masks

Gbini is considered to be the a lot of powerful of all Mendé maskers; it appears both at the last ceremony of the Poro initiation process for a kid of the paramount chief and also also at the corocountry of funeral of a paramount chief. Because of its power, woguys are made to stand also far ago from gbini and also if a woguy accidentally touches it, she should be anointed through medication immediately.

The Gbini wears a big leopard skin, which indicates its association through the paramount chief. The flat, round headitem resembles the chief’s crown. The headpiece is constructed of animal hide stretched over a bamboo frame, and the hide is decorated through cowrie shells and babsence, white, and red strips of cloth that are worked right into a geometric pattern. At the facility is a round mirror. Several flaps that are similarly decorated hang down from the base of the headitem and also overlap the cape, which covers a lot of the wearer’s torso.

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Gbini mask: Gbini mask, Mendé (wood, leopard skin, sheepskin, antelope skin, raffia fiber, cotton fabric, cotton string, cowry shells), from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.