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Mambila Suaga mask

Mambila Suaga mask
Mambila Suaga maskMambila Suaga maskMambila Suaga maskMambila Suaga mask
Tribe: Mambila
Country: Cameroon
Ritual: Harvest
Name: Suaga "Bur"
Materials: Wood, wicker, cloth, resin
Provenance: Coll. Niels Andersen prior 2000. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2000.
Comments: Age estimated at circa 1960

Mambila masks are "showa", "sur" or "sowi" and used in connection with a central fertility rite, or at the burials of important men. It is worn on the head with a full length robe of netting and cocks feathers covering the body.

Dancers celebrating the end of the planting season are lead by a tribesman wearing a cephalomorphic helmet mask. In turn he is followed by a retinue wearing secondary masks. Each subunit in the village has one or more masks, which are the personal possessions of the cult holder and are usually inherited. The dancing is individual rather than group, and very aggressive. Each mask represents a particular type of animal or natural force and the dance associated with the mask mimics it. Anyone may dance a mask, usually the owner is too old. They meet at a central point in the village and make their way around the hamlets. The dancing and beer drinking may go on for several days.

The mask has a characteristic red colour within its mouth and the outer of the mask is soot blackened. The eyes are bulbous, divided by a ridge running from the tooth serrated mouth and terminating in the horn-like appendages at the back of the head. The wickerwork head piece consists of a spiraling wicker rope attached by cane through holes drilled in the wood and the cane spiral.

The Mambila inhabit northwestern Cameroon and eastern Nigeria. They number approx 25,000 and speak Mambila, with neighbours in the Kaka, Tikar and Bafum. They carve wooden statues to represent ancestors and the masks celebrate the sorghum harvest in the dry season or the Ibinilume Festival in December. Agriculture plays an important part historically as the Mambila were involved in the regional trade routes that connected the south with the Fulani traders in the north. Their central location allowed them to incorporate a wide variety of cereal and crops into their agricultural product. Some hunting and fishing is done but neither contributes significantly to the daily economy. Goats, chicken, dogs and sheep are raised for meat.


  1. University of Iowa, Art and Life in Africa Project and UIMA. Stanley Collection Database.
  2. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  3. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  4. Nokmuseum.org. Iowa University. Online. 2001.