African Brilliance, at Penn State's Palmer Museum
Tiny Tiger came along with me on my day's adventures. He insisted that he wanted to ride the bus and have breakfast out. So we did just that. He also tagged along as I ran some errands on campus. In between, we took a few minutes to visit the Palmer Museum's newest exhibit, African Brilliance, which is available now through May 24.
The exhibit is a collection of the Ambassador Allen Davis, amassed primarily during his 34 years of working for the U.S. State Department. In the photo above, you may see a bull mask of the Bidjogo peoples of Guinea-Bissau. The extra photo shows a plank mask of the Bwa peoples of Birkina Faso. I'll include below the descriptions of the masks from the museum catalogue.
Bull Mask, dugn'be
Bidjogo people, Bissagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau
Wood, raffia, cow horns, pigment, cloth, iron, and glass.
The initiation cycles of the Bidjogo peoples of the Bissagos Islands of Guinea-Bissau make use of a variety of powerful creatures from the land and sea, including sharks, hippopotami, swordfish, and bovine. This bull mask is used by mid-level male initiates to imitate the animal's aggressive behavior and celebrate their own wild nature before they are pacified, domesticated, and fully admitted into adult society.
Plank Mask, nwantantay
Bwa people, Burkina Faso
Wood, pigment, and fiber
The Bwa have a well-deserved reputation for the artistry of their tall wooden plank masks. Harvest celebrations, funeral rites, initiation ceremonies, and community events all provide occasions for public masquerades. This mask's tall plank represents the path that the ancestors took as they descended to earth and corresponds to the moral path that every person must follow to be successful and receive blessings. The mask's strong geometric patterns recall the scarification patterns once worn by the Bwa on their faces and bodies.
I showed Tiny Tiger the bull mask and he immediately became afraid and hopped back into my coat pocket! As I read the descriptions on several other masks, I learned that for certain events, when the masks are worn, women and children are not even permitted to be outside, as the masks are seen as too scary for them. And for Tigers too, apparently.
The soundtrack song for these mask photos is a favorite David Bowie tune from the grand masque that takes place in the film Labyrinth: As the World Falls Down.
P.S. In other news, totally unrelated to this, reports out of New South Wales on this day indicated that the fires were finally contained everywhere, after many days of flames and destruction and loss of life. How we wept to watch Australia burn, and to see its people and its creatures suffer.
They said that the recent drenching rains helped. So to celebrate my gladness at this wonderful news, I give you an extra tune. This is also to honor Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose founding member passed away this week, and whose joy has lifted me up many a time: Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain.