Elephant Mukenga Mask. Kuba, Zaire. Made from Cowrie Shells, Beads, Raffia, Fur, Cloth. The elephant mask, is commonly used among the Kuba, and is worn by a distinguished person during funerary rites of a titled person. The white cowrie shells embellishing this mask are symbolic; white is a color associated with death and mourning. For the Yaka, masks perform in puberty rituals for male youths, as well as assuring and protecting the future fertility of the initiated.
Africa, Sierra Leone Sande Society Mask, 20th century wood, raffia. This mask from the Sande Society in Sierra Leone was worn by a mature woman as part of an initiation ceremony for young girls entering adulthood. The mask represents the ideal of womanhood and feminine beauty among Mende women.
N’tomo Mask. Bamana people, Mali. Painted wood. Characterized by multiple horns and, sometimes, eyelashes and white shell ornamentation, these masks serve to protect young boys during their first initiation cycle before circumcision. This style, with the head of the woman in front of the horns is made by Bougouni people in Mali. The number of horns make reference to specific characteristics of males (3 or s3 horns) or females (4 or 8 horns) and the androgynous (2, 5 or 7).