- Museum number
Human face-shaped mask (maria) for Nyau masquerade made of wood painted red. Silver paper circles glued to small eye hollows. Forehead covered with strip of skin with attached fur. White plastic raffia sacking secured through holes in mask hangs down in front and at back. Mass of assorted feathers forms a ruff surrounding the mask. Strips of plastic, in different colours, knotted on plastic raffia thread at back of mask. Single strip of cotton cloth tied to feather ruff at back. Narrow band of rubber secured across back to keep mask in place when in use.
- Production date
- 20thC(late) (?)
Height: 71 centimetres
Width: 50 centimetres
Depth: 21.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
Maria belongs to the mask family of the Chief. This family is composed of Chadzunda (father), Maria (mother), N’gan’gande (eldest son), Simoni (youngest son), Kadyankhadze (Chief’s sister’s son) and Pedegu (orphan). This grouping of masks are all carved from wood and considered to be related to one another as the family of the Chief (de Aguilar, 1996:84)
Maria is assumed to be a foreigner, though the mask is most often the representation of senior and respected Chewa women who are initiated in Nyau. The Maria of the family of masks is a woman of age, wisdom and respect. She is the mother, the ancestress, and the Chief’s wife, and is known for giving very good advice, and tries to give good information to the Chief and others (de Aguilar, 1996:85).
She is described as the mother of all, a most important mask role. As the wife of a Chief she has social expectations placed upon her by virtue of her husband’s role, given the respect due to her in this position. At the same time she is interpreted by Nyau members as also representing a namkungwi, a woman of senior standing in her own right. As the namkungwi, she is revered as the protector and defender of the Chief, an instructor of the young, entrusted with the knowledge of Nyau and initiated into the secretive knowledge of both males and females (de Aguilar, 1996:85).
Maria is an older woman but she can be carved young or old. De Aguilar notes that the all-male carvers have said and suggested they clearly prefer the younger version of Maria, depicting young initiated girls who later take on senior roles. One elderly carver said he chooses to carve masks of women as they were when they were young, and again when they are older, keeping the face in mind “before the faces are gone forever in death” So, he may carve two masks of the same woman; a just-matured girl and an older woman (de Aguilar, 1996:86)
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 men's semi-secret masked association whose major function is to perform masquerades at funerary ceremonies. Collected in 1992.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number