- Museum number
Human face-shaped mask (namwali) for Nyau masquerade made of wood painted bright pink. Tiny face with circular ears set low on cheeks; pointed nose, mouth and chin. Eyebrows made of resin ?, eyes are square, eyeballs painted white and applied to inside of mask. Three scarification ? marks, in lighter pink paint, decorate each cheek and centre of forehead. Three incised lines run horizontally across brow. Hair made of animal skin with attached fur covers back of mask. Natural-coloured cotton cloths hang below chin and from lower edge of skin at back of mask. Attached to mask through holes along edge of mask with synthetic raffia thread.
Worn at boy's initiation.
- Production date
- 1989 (?)
Height: 61.50 centimetres
Width: 23 centimetres
Depth: 11.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
Namwali is the term used for young male initiates before they complete the initiation ceremony. During the initiation of boys into Nyau they learn about the secrets of the masks; the specific parts of the mask, the material used, and the way of making them. In the course of initiation, the boys also come to know something about why the masks are made, how they are made, and the experience of what it is to be within the Nyau mask form. This knowledge comes from the actual experience of initiation, from the understandings by which they have been raised, and by which they are now given new insights through songs, riddles and stories. The initiation for the boys can be done in as little as three days (de Aguilar, 1996:168).
The initiates (namwali) are taken into the woods of the graveyard where they spend their days and nights under the guidance of teachers, and the Nyau leader, the wakunjira. One critical lesson is the learning of Nyau names for certain objects. One of the teachers sets out a row of objects on the ground; these are common objects such as a feather, maize leaf, knife or branch of a tree. In the initiation the common objects become ritual objects with secret names and a new significance for the initiates. Each object becomes part of the making of masks and part of the metaphoric property of masks.
The boys are taught songs and passwords and are treated roughly, according to their individual behaviour, and as a group. All around them are initiated members, some of who wear masks. Throughout the initiation the masked men come and go and may ask the boys questions which they must answer correctly or be beaten (de Aguilar, 1996:169).
The final step for the boys is the ritual re-birth, the sign of renewal and the passage of life from initiate (namwali) to being mature (ku kulu) and occurs in the graveyard on the last day of the initiation process. The boys are taken to Kasiymaliro (an antelope-like animal mask and made to enter the Mimba or belly of the beast while the animal is seen grunting and moving. The boy is forced to crawl beneath the lifted form and go inside. After going inside the beast the boy emerges with the secret knowledge that the Kasiyamaliro is not moved by the spirits, but is moved by man; that man gives the wild animal its life. In the course of initiation the boys discover new significance for the commonplace things. They have been inside the Nyau animal forms and have learned how the masks are made. In essence they have gained new knowledge not shared by outsiders, through ritual and masking (de Aguilar, 1996:170).
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. Mask worn at boy's initiation in 1989; masks 1993,Af9.17&19 worn by other boys at same initiation. Mask carved by Mr.Mafuta. Collected in 1992.
See also Af1993,09.17
See also Af1993,09.19
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number