230941 - Old Lipico Makonde Head- or Helm mask - Tanzania


Old Lipico Makonde Head- or Helm mask - Tanzania
Carved from a single piece of wood, with color pigments.
Height: 30 cm x 25 cm. This mask is collected in 1960s

The Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique are one of the most prolific art producing peoples in eastern Africa. One of the most prominent of these arts are the life size helmet masks called Lipico, which are worn on the top of the head partially covering the face and slightly tipped upward so that the dancer can see. Masks play a prominent role in Makonde life, serving to mark the end of the initiation and circumcision cycle for boys as they move into manhood. The Lipico masks show a wide range of Makonde life and society as they depict initiates, villagers, coastal Arabs, and colonial officials. Usually, Makonde will embellish their masks with human hair (as on the mask illustrated here). They will sometimes insert pegs for teeth, whiten the eyes, and, in a quest for realism, often show human deformities. Sometimes they have a lip plug, which Makonde men used to wear. They are decorated with patterns of scarification in the form of zig-zag designs on the forehead and on the sides of the face. This elaborate scarification marks various stages of an initiates passage into full maturity and adult responsibility; it literally marks a man's advancement in social, political, and ritual status. This scarification is represented most often by the application of thin lines of wax or, as in this mask, by carving onto the surface of the mask. The wood used in the production of Lipico mask is called njala.