Fighting with masks

Seminar date: 
01 July 2008
Speaker(s): Wouter van Beek

African masks are among the most prized possessions in anthropological museums and Dogon masks are indispensable in any collection of African masks. Long renowned for their masks, the Dogon are receiving an increasing number of tourists in their World Cultural Heritage area each year and one of their main sources of income during the tourist season comes from performing mask dances. While the main mask dance, the dama, is performed only once every twelve years as a second funeral, part of this complex ritual is now being performed several times a day in the months of December and January in villages that have become famous on the international tourist scene.
My research village, Tireli, is one of these villages, perhaps not unrelated to the fact that my publications usually focus on this village. But Tireli had not held a proper dama for over 44 years. Why had they postponed it for so long? The village is now split over the issue of masks and mask dances were the focal point of a severe fraternal battle that culminated in the southern half's decision to proceed with the ritual on its own. I witnessed the event in April and May this year: the two village halves locked in battle about the control of a ritual. What was at stake? How could masks be at the centre of a conflict?
During this seminar I will show pictures and recent film footage to demonstrate what a dama means and show some masks to get a 'feeling' of the event.

Professor Wouter van Beek is senior researcher at the African Studies Centre and, since 2007, extraordinary Professor of religious anthropology at the University of Tilburg.