Masquerades in African Society: Gender, power, and identity

Walter van Beek and Harrie Leyten have co-authored this wide ranging book on masquerades in Africa. The book was initiated in 2015 following a conversation just before Harrie Leyten defended his PhD thesis in Tilburg with Van Beek as promotor. It took seven years to come to fruition. Leyten worked on the manuscript until its completion but, sadly, he passed away in 2023 never having seen the book itself.

What is the meaning of masks and masquerades in African traditions and how can we understand their role in rituals and performances? Why do we find masks in some African regions and not in others, and what does this 'mask habitat' say about the general dynamics of masquerades in Africa? Though masks are among the most famous art icons of Africa, exploration of their uses and the way in which they articulate social characteristics of African societies has been underexamined.

This book takes an anthropological perspective on the phenomenon of masquerades on the African continent to show how mask rituals are an integral part of African indigenous religions and societies, and are informed by and linked to specific types of social and ecological conditions. Having established the commonalities of mask rituals and a mask typology, the authors look at the varieties of mask performances and the types of rituals in which masks function in rites of passage and in rituals of gender, power, and identity.

Read the blog 'To Mask or Not to Mask', written by Wouter van Beek on the occasion of the appearance of the book.

Author(s) / editor(s)

Walter van Beek, Harrie Leyten

About the author(s) / editor(s)

Prof. Walter van Beek is a retired research fellow at the ASCL. From 1979 onwards the Dogon of Central Mali form his  focus of research: their religion, including their masquerades, and their cultural heritage have resulted in a number of publications and co-produced films. At present a huge song cycle at the heart of the Dogon funeral rites, forms the pivot of a project called DigiDogon, part of the Joint Program on digitalisation of cultural heritage (JPICH).



Dr Harrie Leyten († 2023) was a former Africa curator at the Amsterdam Museum of the Tropics (now National Museum of World Cultures). His interests were in indigenous African religions, African art and Museums of Ethnography (the Africa departments). On 15 April 2015 Harrie Leyten defended his PhD thesis From idol to art: African 'objects-with-power' : a challenge for missionaries, anthropologists and museum curators at Tilburg University.



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