Types of West African Masks

There are a huge variety of mask types found in West Africa. Masks range from very detailed and accurate figures to the very abstract, and can be classified into the following basic types.

Face mask

This most common mask type is used throughout West Africa. They can be secured to the face in several ways. These methods include with a band or string put through holes on each side of the mask, held on by a wig, or secured by a scarf.

feature maskHeaddress masks

These masks are actually set on a base which sits on top of the wearers head. The Bambara (Bamana), who are the largest ethnic group in Mali, and the the Dan people of Liberia are famous for this type of mask.

Dan protection mask_2

Shoulder masks

These masks are usually large and heavy and rest on the wearer’s shoulders.

Antique maskHelmet masks

Fit over the wearer’s entire head and are usually carved from a section of tree trunk.

Helmet crests

Unlike the helmet masks these mask do not fit over the wearer’s entire head but rather is worn like a hat, leaving the face exposed.

headress maskCap crests (forehead masks)

This type of mask is worn on the forehead leaving the wearer’s face exposed.


Watch the BBC video documentary below to learn more about West African masks: