Carnival Chicken Mask

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Dolo, a blacksmith and woodcarver, and his son Samuel, making a Kanaga mask, Ogol du Haut village, Mali
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1970. Image no. EEPA EECL 6837. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Masks

Masks have been a part of human culture for hundreds of thousands of years. The first masks date to roughly 7000 B.C. They allow for the person wearing them to take on the persona of an animal, spirit, or a person different from themselves. Masks are made from a variety of materials, including wood that is painted or decorated, clay, and different metals that are available to the mask makers. Different cultures use masks in different contexts, including religion, warfare, or for entertainment. One example of the use of masks in a religious context is the Topeng dance of Indonesia. In this tradition, participants wear ornate masks as they act out dramatic interpretations of myths and traditions of the native religion. The performances incorporate elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, which were introduced later.

Baule woodcarvers at work, Yagolikro village, Ivory Coast
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972. Image no. EEPA EECL 6900. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Humans and the Environment

Humans have always manipulated their environment, whether by acquiring food, making and using tools, or other aspects of daily life. They are constantly interacting with their environment on a daily basis. By using the available materials, humans have created shelter, made tools, created containers and vessels, and produced items of personal and cultural significance. Many of these resources are naturally occurring, such as stones, minerals, animal bones, or organic fibers from plants, while others are made from combining materials. The process of acquiring these materials and the manufacturing process can be traditional practices that are passed down from one generation to another. Because materials are unique to the location of different communities and cultures, by studying the types of materials, as well as animal remains found and the processes used to manipulate them, anthropologists and researchers can learn about the daily activities and lifestyles of the cultures they are studying. In what ways do you interact with your environment on a daily basis?

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