- Museum number
Animal head (chilembwe) for Nyau masquerade, made of plastic raffia sacking. Forms part of large two-man animal construction, worn together with no.66 in collection. Open mouth formed from bent strips of cane covered in raffia sacking. Bundles of partly blackened sisal lengths are knotted into plastic raffia throughout. Construction is mounted on central wooden stick. These animal constructions are known for rolling in fire.
- Production date
Height: 91 centimetres
Width: 27 centimetres
Depth: 18 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For depictions of Nyau masks in Malawi rock art see:
John Chilembwe, educated and trained by missionaries, staged an uprising against the british colonial administration in Magomero in 1915. The uprising failed, but the drama of the event was felt in southern and central regions of Malawi. Participants in the uprising fled back to their villages and though the British were diligent in their search, some were never captured. For those who remembered the vent they talked about the coming of of the white people on their horses, galloping after the rebels.
Since the time of the uprising, in 1915, a new mask appeared in the repertoire of the Chewa performance. It is the Chilembwe, a large animal-like construction holding two men within a hollow frame, with four sisal-covered leggings; the four legs of the horse. The head is on a long pole held by the man in the front end of the construction, and the whole frame is covered in oiled sisal strips, making it dark brown in colour. Chilembwe is performed as part of the Gule Wamkulu (de Aguilar, 1996:70)
Nyau members in the southern part of the central region identified the mask as a horse. In comparison, in Bunda, Nyau members refer to Chilembwe as a more recent mask adopted as a kind of antelope (de Aguilar, 1996:71)
The mask may have been first made for the funeral or funeral remembrance for the death of Chilembwe himself. Chilembwe was born into a Nyanja village, his mother’s village, which must have experienced Nyau. This form may then have been adopted by other Nyau members and eventually became a well-known mask genre in the region, with or without the knowledge of the association with John Chilembwe himself (de Aguilar, 1996:71)
See Collection File Af,1993.09. Collection made by the vendor during a period of fieldwork in Malawi. Collected in 1985. 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