Sim (Spirit 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.

The sim mask is 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. Preceded by sirige and kanaga masquerades, and one of the many different mask types found during a Dama ceremony, the sim masquerade's "movements is among the most strenuous of Dogon dances, requiring the performer to swing the mask around the axis of his body, and to beat the ground with the tip of the superstructure".1

Distinguishing Features

  • Made from wood of palm tree
  • Similar in form to kanaga masks
  • Superstructure of sim taller and more flexible than kanaga's
    • Vertical pole
    • Two horizontal, parallel bars across vertical pole
    • Tall superstructure (depicts tall, thin spirit in human form whose body is constantly swaying)
    • Vertical, upward pointing elements attached to ends of crossbar
      • Rare examples point down in lower crossbars
      • Fibre tufts attached to each element tip
    • Chevrons and triangles painted on superstructure
  • Pierced, diamond-shaped section links mask with superstructure enhanced with strips of animal hide
  • Mask takes the form of rectangular box with an arched forehead
    • Two pointed ears project from mask
    • Two deeply hollowed channels in front in which deep set rectangular eye holes are cut
    • Rope net attached to back of mask

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