- Museum number
Human face-shaped mask (simoni or mbalangwe) for Nyau masquerade made of wood covered with shiny red paint. Narrow eyes and mouth; split at right proper side of mouth, repaired with nylon thread which runs through holes on either side of damaged area. Carefully shaped skin with attached animal hair is nailed (metal) to mask to form hairstyle. Mask pierced around edge; ruff composed of red, white, yellow and purple wool is fixed from ear to ear by means of fibre bindings. Mask is framed by numerous bundles of assorted feathers, bound together with twisted fibre cord, itself attached to mask through the edge holes. Strips of white plastic and floral cotton cloth are tied to fibre cords. Length of doubled rubber knotted across back of mask, used to hold mask in place.
- Production date
Height: 68 centimetres
Width: 57 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
The Simoni mask is representative of the youngest son of the Chief, portraying him as a young man possibly still of school age, who is intelligent and clever, handsome and well-liked. He does not get drunk or quarrel, but who dances very well and very actively, who takes on leadership, and is born into a rich family, the family of the Chief.
Simoni is most closely associated with the Colonial period, as the dance performance is partly derived from Colonial officers, with movements projecting both the authority of the officers and in unsuspecting moments, their ineffectual stance. Simoni enters the dance singly, or in pairs, trios or in groups of five or six. The dances are difficult and well-coordinated. They are popular masks in the dance performance for the aggressive athletic dance steps.
Simoni is interpreted by Nyau members as being very clever and sometimes too clever in an unflattering way, related more to shrewdness. Others interpret Simoni as intelligent and all the things a young man would want to be in Chewa society. In both cases, Simoni represents the young people who are going to school in larger numbers and learning English. These youths are initiated but are more likely to be interested in other pursuits.
Like other Chewa masks, there is an ambiguity in the mask form which is seen as being bright but also shrewdly clever and dangerous as the Colonial officers might have been perceived. Ironically, despite the fine qualities of the youngest son of the Chief, he has no future in the succession of leadership in his own village (de Aguilar, 1996:88)
Mbalanagwe performs in the Gulu Wamkulu or the Great Dance; this mask dances at the end of the dance performance, turning in circles and is known to chase people away if they linger too long (de Aguilar, 1996:55)
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. Said to resemble Chief Ntomondo of Likuni village. Previous dancer of the mask purchased it from unidentified owner in 1989 whose age and name were unknown. Collected by vendor in 1992.
- Not on display
- Fair, repaired. Some feathers detached from mask.
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number