Hemba Monkey Mask
Located in South Africa is a little landlocked country called Zambia. Within this country resides one of many cultures among others, the Hemba people. The Hemba people live in villages, recognizing chiefs as political leaders. It is typical that a chief will be the head of extended family of landowners. They have created many art forms such as wooden sculptures representing ancestors, and similar to styles seen in Luba sculptures. Hemba people may also belong to secret societies such as the Bukanzanzi for men and Bukibilo for women. The So’o secret society is guarded by strangely crafted maskes that resemble monkeys or chimpanzees, which are used during rituals. These masks are called the Hemba monkey mask or So’o mask.
The Hemba Monkey mask is a ritual mask with a couple of different purposes. These masks are typically brought to funerals because the monkey symbolizes death and judgment. Not only does this mask help with mourning but also helps restore peace back to the village after a death. The monkey is a highly agile, crafty and mischievous creature in nature, therefore this mask has an association with these characteristics. There are two
different sizes of the Hemba monkey masks, a small own is typically worn around the waist to help secure fertility and the larger one worn on the face at funerals.
The Hemba monkey mask is a funerary festival mask that not only brings terror into the people, but also helps the Hemba people be at peace with the dead. Aesthetically the mask does not resemble a monkey naturalistically, however there are monkey like suggestive lines. At first glance, the masks all have something quite obvious in common, a giant gaping mouth. When Bahemba look at this object, they see what they call a horrible and terrifying “mouth”: an enormous and grotesque curvature (Blakely, 7). These masks maintain a wide curved form that clearly indicates a mouth or an open mouth for the Hemba...
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