Hemba Monkey Mask Located in South Africa is a little landlocked country called Zambia. Within this country resides one of many cultures among others, the Hemba people. The Hemba people live in villages, recognizing chiefs as political leaders. It is typical that a chief will be the head of extended family of landowners. They have created many art forms such as wooden sculptures representing ancestors, and similar to styles seen in Luba sculptures. Hemba people may also belong to secret societies such as the Bukanzanzi for men and Bukibilo for women.
The So’o secret society is guarded by trangely crafted maskes that resemble monkeys or chimpanzees, which are used during rituals. These masks are called the Hemba monkey mask or So’o mask. The Hemba Monkey mask is a ritual mask with a couple of different purposes. These masks are typically brought to funerals because the monkey symbolizes death and Judgment. Not only does this mask help with mourning but also helps restore peace back to the village after a death. The monkey is a highly agile, crafty and mischievous creature in nature, therefore this mask has an association with these characteristics.
There are two different sizes of the Hemba monkey masks, a small own is typically worn around the waist to help secure fertility and the larger one worn on the face at funerals. The Hemba monkey mask is a funerary festival mask that not only brings terror into the people, but also helps the Hemba people be at peace with the dead. Aesthetically the mask does not resemble a monkey naturalistically, however there are monkey like suggestive lines. At first glance, the masks all have something quite obvious in common, a giant gaping mouth.
When Bahemba look at this object, they ee what they call a horrible and terrifying “mouth”: an enormous and grotesque curvature (Blakely, 7). These masks maintain a wide curved form that clearly indicates a mouth or an open mouth for the Hemba people. However, this mouth is far from a smile. To the Hemba people, it is a strange and horrible mouth, not part of a typical greeting. Keeping one’s mouth closed and lips over the teeth is the commonly followed Hemba rule and consistent pattern, one even hears adults instructing younger children on how to keep one’s lips closed in this manner (Blakeley, 31).
One ight ask, how could a simple arch be so grimacing and evil? Well to put it simply, if that smile is associated with something negative, an evil clown for example, we could Another feature that is apparent on these masks are the raised eyebrows. In Bahemba culture, raising of the eyebrows it not out of the ordinary, however keeping the eyebrows raised is quite questionable in behavior. Bahemba associate Raised eyebrows held for a long time, with wildness or craziness. The combination of the raised eyebrows and widely arched mouth carved onto these masks can prove to be ather menacing.
One could understand how this mask could be widely feared in the village. Bahemba focus on carving detail into the mouth while keeping the face rather proportional. Most carvers do an exquisite Job rendering the mask with human like expressions. In contrast to cultures that I am familiar with, during Chinese New Year, a dragon costume is worn to celebrate the coming of the New Year. The Costume is large almost like a giant puppet, which is controlled by several acrobats on the inside.
The head of the attire is the most important part of the ostume because of its facial construction, much like the Hemba monkey mask. The dragon’s face has a large gaping mouth, which can be opened and closed by the wearer on the inside to animate this creature to life. The wearers on the inside are concealed by the long drapy costume that resembles the body of the dragon, however leaving the legs exposed as part of the dragon itself. This type of ritual both frightens little children and also brings Joy and excitement to adults.
The Hemba monkey mask serves as a symbol of death and Judgment at funerary ituals and also acts as comic relief at the same time. Such a contradictory item is uncommon, however, is not that bizarre in comparison to cultures such as mine. The dragon in my culture is a feared yet humble creature, manifesting these traits with its costumes. It only makes sense that the ever so troublemaking and mischievous monkey is associated with its grim-reaper like mask. Blakely, Thomas. “Solo Masks and Hemba Funerary Festival. ” African Arts. LA: UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center, 2008. pp. 30-86. Print.