Before carving each mask, the artist has to first purify himself and offer a prayer to the ancestors asking for proper guidance from the divine.
Different traditions have led to a great diversity of mask forms. These beautiful and powerful sculpture abounds in wood, brass and the occasional terracotta.
The masks form an integral part of Yoruba ceremonies, rituals, initiations, celebrations and secret cults and can also be considered as a performance art as ceremonies include song, prayer and dance.
Masks are representative of some spirits or gods. This spirit is believed to possess the dancer as they wear the mask. Masking ceremonies involves the chosen dancer speaking and hearing from the ancestors. This happens as the dancer goes into a trance like a state. The purpose is often to receive the guidance and wisdom from the ancestors or to tell a story or play out a message of the peoples' history.
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The love of music, song and dance always plays a central theme in the ceremonies and rituals. These rituals and ceremonies may depict the ancestors, but also the dead, the spirit of animals and other supernatural beings. During initiation ceremonies, the masks worn, depict an ancestor. The purpose would be to gain favour and to be received into the tribe as a vital member.
Before carving each mask, the artist has to first purify himself and offer a prayer to the ancestors asking for proper guidance from the divine. The object will then be inhabited by the divine force and the spirit of the tree used to create it will be sacrificed, cut down and left for a couple days to find a new home.
They are often decorated with paints, cowrie shells, coloured glass, nails, plant fibres, horns and metal pieces.