Kanaga Mask

Dogon peoples

Republic of Mali

Kanaga Mask, n.d.

  • Not On View

Polychromed wood

Dimensions: 38 × 23 1/4 in. (96.5 × 59.1 cm)

Gift of Justice and Mrs. G. Mennen Williams, 1973.56

The Awa, a men’s secret society concerned with the dead, made and danced this mask. Kanaga masks are worn at the dama ritual, performed to lead the souls of the deceased away from the village and give way to their transformation in to ancestors. The uninitiated members of the Dogon community are taught that the double-barred superstructure represents a mythical bird with white wings and a black forehead. However the mask holds more cultural significance to Awa members, who are taught that it represents the body of god, his arms and legs, and the arrangement of the universe, the upper cross-bar symbolizing the sky and the lower cross-bar the earth. All Dogon masks are said to belong to the afterworld, where life and death meet.

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