Makonde Body Mask

Makonde body mask

The Makonde people live in southeast Tanzania, northern Mozambique, and Kenya.  This mask, known as a njorowe, is from Tanzania. Masks like this one are used in Makonde initiation rituals. During their initiation, boys are isolated for a period of several months during which they are circumcised and taught rules of adult behavior, expectations of married life, traditional songs and dances, and other practical skills. When the young men return to the village, celebrations including masked dance performances are held. A male dancer wears this type of body mask along with a feminine mask on his face, representing a young, pregnant woman.  Together with a male masked figure, the dancers pantomime sexual intercourse and demonstrate the burdens of pregnancy and agony of childbirth. The ritual prepares young men and women for their roles as future husbands and wives.

 The belly of this mask features incised designs. On a person, these designs are created by incisions in the skin that are rubbed with vegetable carbon and then castor oil to create a dark blue color. The result is somewhere between scarification and a tattoo. The Makonde believe that tattoos near the navel protect against evil spirits. Historically, many Makonde people had facial tattoos, but they are rare today.

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