African Tribal Art

One of the most common themes that are depicted in African art is that of a stranger, which signifies the premium that Africans place on the tribe to which they belong. Another way of depicting a tribe’s unique set of beliefs is to depict them in masks, which have been used in traditional ceremonies that are associated with the spirits of ancestors, fertility and initiation ceremonies as well as rites of passage. These ceremonies strengthen the bonds within a tribe since they emphasize strength as they welcome more members and as they glorify the history of their ancestors.

Different materials used

Given that there are numerous tribes located in Africa, it can also be expected that there would be a unique set of masks for each tribe. Usually, these masks can be distinguished from one another based on the material used to make them. One of the most common materials used is wood, which most tribes could find in abundance in their area. Another material that is used is ivory, which was commonly used by the Warega tribe in Benin. Brass was also used and was distinct to the Senufo and Ashanti tribe in Benin. Other materials include shells, beads, knitted materials, basketry and other fabrics.


Apart from being able to distinguish the tribes that used masks based on the materials they were made of, you would also be able to distinguish the masks based on their distinct features. Masks that come from Zaire or Zambia were larger-than-life, brightly colored, had projecting foreheads, large cheeks, and small eyes. Masks that come from Tanzania, specifically from the Mekonde tribe, were often very realistic. A cloth was usually worn on the head by the wearer of the mask.

African masks are very good examples of how Africans depicted the value they placed on their tribes as these masks represented the unique features of their people. In addition to this, the materials that each tribe used to make these masks also serve as “distinguishing marks” that can help people identify one tribe from another.

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