Maynard Switzer has recently returned from Mali, where he attended and photographed a Dogon mask dance. These dances are performed at several times during the year, and serve to celebrate the start of the rainy seasons to bring about abundant rainfall, at the end of the harvest seasons to ensure plentiful crops, and also as funerary rituals to commemorate the dead.
The dances involve dozens of dancers representing figures from the animal world, male and female powers, and the after-world, while the masks represent spirits, women, midwives, witchdoctors, snakes, antelopes and other various representations.
Maynard tells me that the masks are made by boys as part of their coming of age. No outsider is allowed to see the dancers get dressed & put on their masks. The older men are dressed in dark blue, and are retired former dancers who train the new dancers.
The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. They are best known for their mythology, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture.
Maynard Switzer was previously featured here on this blog.