Cultural Masks - What Was Its Purpose?

Cultural Masks and their primary purpose to a large extent have been forgotten in the 'civilized' world. Masks use, in ritual dances, has performed an important aspect during religious and the social life of our ancestors. To better understand their origin and reasons of significance, we need to explore other regions. (Elastic dori for mask)

The African continent is one area of the world where the true meaning of the mask is most apparent. African tribal masks can be associated with ancestral, ceremonial, religion, tradition, and secret societies, which still play a vital role today. Many mask making communities had no written language, so mask and performances was one way for them to pass on their heritage.

Masks from the South Seas are less known than those found in Africa. Although masks from the Melanesian islands of New Caledonia, New Guinea and New Hebrides have become familiar to a wider group in recent years. In Melanesia, ancestor worship was found to be the most dominant. The remodeled and painted skulls, which portray the ancestors, could have possibly stem from ancient Neolithic cultures of the Middle East.

Ceylon and Tibet masks are used in ways, which seem particularly strange to western minds. Ceylonese masks represent demons of sickness and held healing ceremonies to banish these demons, which they believe are evil spirits. The healing ceremony used psychological methods directed towards the psyche of the patient, which also had an effect on their physical condition. These healing ceremonies could not have survived for thousands of years and spread throughout the world if they had not produced results.

Native American masks found in North America have often taken the shape of animals. They sometimes represent a totemic ancestor. Even been known to represent the 'spirit helper' of a shaman, a spirit whom the shaman (magician or medicine man) has summoned to help him in his magical tasks.

Another important type of mask is the theatre mask. Noh theatrical performances of Japan are the most well known and continue to be presented today. Noh masks signify a heroic individual, evil character, spirit, god, devil or mythical animal, and are considered highly sophisticated works of art. Their root still lies in the myths and cults of Japans ancient past, but has broken away from its strictly religious purpose. Theatre Masks can be traced back to the ancient Greeks

European masks have been known for a vast variety throughout the ages but no longer represents the original significance of its past. Carnival masks are considered more now as products of folk art.

Cultural masks from many parts of the world, can be placed into three main categories:

Ancestors - Tradition
Spirit Helpers
Theatre Mask

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