African Masks Illustration

African Art

Masks were the face of the beliefs, rituals, and customs of the tribes of Africa. Masks were usually worn with costumes for specific reasons. Masks were tied to everyday life and for important events, like birth of new baby, or a marriage, or for protection.

Masks were worn by special tribal healers and the powerful select few in the tribe. Only men could have this honor.

Masks were created by tribal craftsmen who passed their craft down from generation to generation. Mask makers were treated as very important people (VIPs) in the tribe.

Masks were made to be used, not displayed. Some masks were as tall as the person wearing it. Some were worn on the top of the head. Some were worn over the face. Most were made of wood. Some were painted in bright colors. Bits of beads, fibers, shells, ivory, bone were added. Some were made of clay. 

Nearly all the masks and their decorations had spiritual meanings and were considered magical.  Most African tribes believed that humans and animals were part of the same spirit world. So masks that combined animal forms and human forms were believed to be the most magical of all, and were created by only the finest of the tribe's mask craftsmen. 

What are African masks?

African Masks and Meanings (video for kids)

The Arty Factory - African Masks

African Master Carvers

West African Masks - See what kids have created from Spenser Elementary

How to make an African Mask for kids

Game: The King of Benin African Mask Maze Game

See Also:

African Art Lesson Plans

Smithsonian Natural Museum of African Art

African Masks Presentations in PowerPoint format

Traditional African Religion