Muti Wa Lipito ('Head of the Lipiko' Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Worn during male and female initiation ceremonies (Likumbi), muti wa lipiko helmet masks (pl. mapiko meaning 'head of the Lipiko') are a visual representation of past ancestors. The masks are used to demonstrate the ancestors joy and approval at the successful completion of the intensive initiation rights by boys and girls of the village.

"Once a year, during the dry season, boys are withdrawn from society before their rebirth as adults with the approach of the wet season. Initiation involves seclusion, circumcision, tattooing, the filing of teeth and the acquisition of knowledge that is otherwise secret. The return to society is marked by the performance of masquerade."3

The muti wa lipiko masks are also used to celebrate the entry of the youngsters back into the Makonde community as men and women.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood and human hair
  • Thin and lightweight
  • Shows head (and sometimes the eyebrows and lashes) inlaid with human hair
  • Narrow eyes
  • Indicated pupil
  • Eyelids bulged
  • Nose usually flat and small with carved out nostrils
  • Exaggerated, full lips
  • Small mouth opening with filed teeth (for performer to look through)
  • Raised scarification marks made from beeswax found in older masks (newer masks have carved scars)
  • Two major styles exist:
    • 1) Abstract face masks from Tanzania
      • Masks that cover the face
      • Greater range of styles
    • 2) Naturalistic helmet masks from Mozambique
      • Worn completely over the head
  • Female masks feature:
    • Small plugs in ears and lips
    • Rounded cheeks

Share this