Albarga (Old Man Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Dogon once believed that death did not exist, believing instead that immortal humans lived as serpents. However, due to mankind breaking a religious restriction, people developed limited life-spans and eventually died. The first Dogon ancestor to die transformed into a serpent before metamorphosing into his permanent spiritual form. This change into the spirit form (nyama – 'soul and vital force of the ancestor') brought about negative influences to the community. As such, the villagers carved a wara mask (also called dannu; the 'Great Mask' or 'Mother of Masks') in the belief that the mask would hold the nyama of the deceased ancestor. As the wara mask is believed to hold the spirit of the first deceased ancestor, it is used during the Sigi ceremony, held once every 60 years, commemorating the transformational process of the first ancestor.

Unlike the wide variety of animal-based wooden masks, only a small number of masks with human characteristics are carved amongst the Dogon. An example of a mask with humanoid features is the albarga used during the funeral ceremony of a deceased male community member that took part in a Sigi ceremony. The Dama ceremony, held every 10 – 15 years during a good harvest, takes place after burial as a means to guide the deceased's nyama out of the village and into the realm of spirits. Masks representing humans and animals are preceded by sirige, kanaga and sim masquerades during the ceremony.

The albarga mask is said to represent an old man of the Andoumboulou race of small, human-like creatures, believed to be the first inhabitants of the Cliffs of Bandiagara. The Andoumboulou are also said to be the first makers and users of masks among the Dogon.

Distinguishing Features

  • Resembles samana mask
    • Elongated head
    • Prominent, arched forehead
    • Flat face
    • Square or triangular cut out eyes
    • Hemispherical ears positioned high on head
    • T-shaped nose and eyebrows
    • Relief mouth
    • One hole at each side of mask
    • Mask pierced around the rim for attachment of rope net at back of mask
  • Lacks the three distinctive vertical scarification marks on each of samana's cheeks

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