I recently came across 2 masks from Gule Wamkulu - I've posted some information on it below - and although I had a vague recollection of the ritual I didn't know much about it. The masks however, were wonderfully expressive and had an incredibly strong aesthetic even though they don't appear to be fashionable with collectors. I thought I'd share them with the group.
The red mask is Simoni (from Saint Peter) - originally appeared as a caricature of the Christian apostle Simon Peter during the 1920s. Simoni has been rehabilitated within the Nyau cosmology as a prophet/seer more in line with Chewa precepts. He wears a red mask, resembling an Englishman with sunburn and a suit made of rags.
The zebra (apart from reminding me of "Marty" the zebra from the movie series Madagsacar) is one of many masks that represents the spirit of wild animals performing dances with extraordinary energy, entertaining and scaring the audience as representatives of the world of the spirits.
Hope you enjoy them as much as I do
A bit of background:
Since 2005, Gule Wamkulu has been classified as one of the 90 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, a program by UNESCO for preservation of intangible cultural heritage.
It is a secret cult, involving a ritual dance practiced among the Chewa in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It was performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, a secret society of initiated men. Within the Chewa's traditional matrilineal society, where married men played a rather marginal role, the Nyau offered a means to establish a counterweight and solidarity among men of various villages. Nyau members still are responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood, and for the performance of the Gule Wamkulu at the end of the initiation, celebrating the integration into adult society.
Performed in the season following the July harvest, it can also be seen at weddings, funerals, and the installation or the death of a chief. On these occasions, the Nyau dancers wear costumes and masks made of wood and straw, representing a great variety of characters, such as wild animals, spirits of the dead, slave traders as well as more recent figures such as the honda or the helicopter. Each of these figures plays a particular character expressing a form of misbehavior, teaching the audience moral and social values. They dance with extraordinary energy, entertaining and scaring the audience as representatives of the world of the spirits and the dead.
Gule Wamkulu dates back to the great Chewa Empire of the seventeenth century. Despite the efforts of Christian missionaries to ban this practice, it managed to survive under British colonial rule by adopting some aspects of Christianity. As a consequence, Chewa men tend to be members of a Christian church as well as a Nyau society.