- Museum number
Composite square-shaped face mask (jere) for Nyau masquerade. Front made of plastic raffia matting with patterns in black and white. Back of mask of blue synthetic fur fabric. Inside lined with black cotton cloth. Small circular eyeholes cut in front. Animal hair applied to top of mask. Wide band of plastic sacking forms lower border. Fringe of white plastic raffia sewn to inner cotton lining.
- Production date
Height: 51.50 centimetres
Width: 40 centimetres
Depth: 6.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
The dancer in the masked tradition known as Jere is responsible for leading the largest and most respected mask signifying the power of the Chiefs; Njobvu, the elephant.
Jere is a word taken from the Ngoni Maseko clan who broke off from other Ngoni at the Zambezi River. Jere became a common clan name in Malawi introduced by the Ngoni, and possibly, at the same time, became the name of a mask form. Jere is also the name of a series of Ngoni chiefs, beginning with the sons of Zwangendaba, the Zulu military leader who first fled Shaka, crossing the Zambezi in 1835.
The first Jere clan name began in 1848, prior to the subsequent invasions into Chewa populations in Malawi. The first of the Jere kings, a son of Zwangendaba eventually settled in northern Malawi in the 1850s, near Rumphi. He ruled until his death and was succeeded by Amon Jere from 1896 until his death in 1970. Yet another Jere chieftaincy was formed in the then-Chewa area of Nkhota-Kota.
Other off-shoots of the Jere regency migrated southwards, settling in Chewa territory by the 1870s. The Ngoni raided the Chewa, capturing slaves, until the warring abated with the presence of Scottish missionaries in 1878. The Ngoni Jere areas reluctantly came under British rule by the turn of the century. Eventually the Ngoni intermarried with the Chewa, adopting Chewa customs.
The word Jere is given added the semantic meaning of ijere the Ngoni word for a rogue bull elephant. Given this semantic connection the Jere mask can be understood in its role as leading the elephant Njobvu into the village; and the Ngoni raiders may have been perceived as the rogue bull elephant rushing into the village, frightening people and stealing food (de Aguilar, 1996:68).
Kwa (place where one comes from) Jere is also known as the great place, the place of Jere, the court and the Chief’s capital; all references to the powerful Chief of the Zulu. Jere has also been referred to as “great numbers”. Together, Jere may be interpreted as the place of great numbers, and perceived as the warring parties who arrived in great numbers to conquer the scattered Chewa villages (de Aguilar, 1996:69).
See Collection File Af,1993.09. Collected by the vendor during a period of fieldwork in Malawi, in 1992. Nyau is a men's semi-secret masked association whose major function is to perform masquerades at funerary ceremonies.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number