The Meaning and History of the Maasai Mask



The powerful and legendary Maasai people group of Africa is one of the most famous groups in African culture. While they are more commonly associated with Kenya, they are also located in Tanzania. They are known for their highly-skilled warriors and their cattle-herding abilities. In fact, in Maasai culture, a man's wealth is measured in terms of cattle and children. A herd of 50 cattle is a respectable amount, and the more children the better! Masks like the one shown below were historically used in traditional tribal ceremonies to scare opponenets of the Maasai people. This mask shows the characteristic stretching of the earlobes which is common among the Maasai. Because the Maasai are nomadic, they don't have the ancestor cults that many African people groups do. They don't hold any beliefs in survival after death - which is one of the reasons they do not bury their dead. In many African cultures, masks are used in rituals to honor the ancestors, but in Maasai culture the masks were historically worn in traditional ceremonies including celebrations, initiations, crop harvests, and war preparations. The masks often represented the spirits of mythological beings, animals, or spirits. 

In long days past, during ceremonies, a tribal member of the Maasai people would enter a deep trance and deliver a message from the spirit in grunts, broken sentences, or partial phrases. An elder or wise man from the group usually served as an interpreter. Today, these types of ceremonies are often only practiced for tourists as modernism has done away with a lot of the traditional practices. The masks are a way for the Maasai people to make an income and are, for now, mainly used to sell to tourists to provide a livelihood for the carver or artisan.

Where Can I Get My Own Maasai Mask? We sell Maasai Masks in various sizes at our Africa Imports web page. You can get one in size