Mask (Nwamba)



Mask (Nwamba)


Ceremonial costume, mask, sculpture


mid 20th Century


West Africa, Burkina Faso
Southern Bwa


Wood, pigment
78 x 14 in. (198.1 x 35.6 cm)

Object Number



Farming families of the southern Bwa people commission, make, and perform two types of masks. One type, of which this tall nwamba mask is an example, is made of wood. Masks of this category appear in a wide range of public performances, often alongside another Bwa mask type called bieni, which is made of more ephemeral materials such as vines, leaves, and feathers. Though both types of mask are used in the veneration of the nature spirit Do, only wooden masks are acquired for museum collections. This is because the bieni leaf masks are made on the day of the performance, constructed on the body of the performer and then ritually burned after the performance. The wooden nwamba masks are saved for future use and care is taken to preserve them. Every year, these masks are soaked in an herbal solution by their owners to prevent insect damage and repainted with geometric patterns that encode different meanings depending on the viewer and occasion.
Bieni represents the oldest Bwa masking practice. However, since they cannot be collected, it is the newer wooden mask that represents Bwa masking styles within museum collections.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, 2008 - December 1, 2014
MCCM Permanent Collection Gallery, August 6, 2016 - Present


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White 2010.
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On View



“Mask (Nwamba),” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed June 3, 2020,

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