- Museum number
Human face-shaped mask (makanja) for Nyau masquerade made of wood painted pink. Depicts African albino; pointed nose, red painted lips, eyebrows made of applied synthetic fur fabric, eyes lined with strips of synthetic cloth. Eyeballs and teeth of paper applied to inside of mask with black-coloured wax. Lacks facial hair. Hair made of skin with fur attached, to which are sewn cotton cloths. Further cotton cloths are attached through holes in front of mask. Drawstring made of pink and white cotton cloth strip, runs through skin at back of mask. Four holes, placed slightly off-centre, at junction of hair and face on forehead.
- Production date
Height: 51 centimetres
Width: 29 centimetres
Depth: 25 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
The Chewa dancers of Makanja masks wear stilts in their perfomances. Etymologically, Makanja can be broken down into its basic forms: maka: surpassing, exceeding others; nja: of firm tread, from outside, being numerous, the dust raised as an indication of great numbers. Associated words included in the song of the mask provide further information, referring to a person from a foreign country (Dzikolendo) and to being the fastest, strongest, and the one who beats the rest, as described by Nyau members (Namphala). Combined with an explanation from a mask-maker and his assistant (as recorded by de Aguilar, 1996), the carved mask represents the Maasai warriors, and more generally the tall cattle-herding peoples from “a foreign country”. These foreigners were considered the best warriors in the world; fearful people who kept cattle and were known to drink blood (de Aguilar, 1996:72).
The characterisation of the Maasai as warriors from pastoralist societies may have resulted from the experiences of Nyau members, who from the turn of the century to World War I were stationed in Kenya as part of the Nyassa Kings African Rifles battalion.
While Nyau members only associate the Makanja mask with representing tall warriors, it is possible that the mask form existed prior to encounters with the Maasai, as the Ngoni were also considered tall people and fearful warriors who kept cattle.
Makanja masks are carved in wood, with the same realism as other masks, indicating its role as a human, and can be white, pale red and most often, black. The black colour is another indication of its formidable warrior’s strength and has been described as “virile, strong, masculine and handsome” (de Aguilar, 1996:73)
See Collection File Af,1993.09.Collection made by the vendor during periods of fieldwork in Malawi (1985-6,1988,1990 and 1992). Nyau is a men's semi-secret masked association whose major function is to perform masquerades at funerary ceremonies. Vendor states that mask resembles Mr.Batan (now deceased), also a mask-maker who taught Mr.Mafuta (maker of this mask). Collected in 1992.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number