My friend Nancy has travelled the world and has collected many souvenirs along the way. She has a mask collection and she kindly allowed me to take a picture of this beaded antique mask.

It is believed to be Tanzanian and was made around 1900. The tiny seed beads were not sewn. On close examination, it looks like they were embedded into some kind of natural resin which hardened.

Face masks were and still are the most common type of masks in Africa. Their use is largely ceremonial. The addition of beads to a mask is special as beads represent wealth in many if not all African societies. Beads include not just the trade beads but natural ones such as cowrie shells, seeds, nuts, bones and tusks.

The Bamileke tribe from Cameroon also have beaded masks - elephant masks. Why elephants? The elephant epitomizes power and strength and together with beads, the wearer of such masks assumes privilege and status. The Kuosi Society - royalty, courtiers, wealthy leaders and top warriors - is the elite group who are permitted to wear these elephant masks. The Rand African Art Company has several more photographs both historical and more current ones of these unique masks. No wonder African masks are in demand by collectors.

Kuosi (“Kingmaker”) Society Elephant Mask : Bamileke Kingdom, Cameroon


Lois Sherr Dubin (1987). The History of Beads : 30,000 years BC to the Present. Harry N Abrams Inc.

Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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