The Elephant Mask Costume and the Costume of Airowayoye Essay

The Elephant Mask Costume and the Costume of Airowayoye Essay

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In Gallery 101 acquisition number 1999.76 at the Dayton Art Institute, you will find the Kuosi (Elephant Mask) Society Costume of the Bamileke people in Cameroon, Africa. Standing almost six feet tall (67 inches), the elephant mask costume was worn during Tso (elephant dance) by a secret society of warriors dedicated to protecting their king. Today the costume maintains order in the Bamileke society and reminds the king that he is not above the gods. The elephant mask costume is worn to display the king’s wealth at the Kuosi celebration. The costume is made of hair, fur, beads, ivory, feathers and twine which are rare, expressing the kings wealth and power (Dallas Museum of Art). The Elephant Mask Costume has both artistic and ritualistic value; symbolizing the wealth, privilege and power the Bamileke people have against their enemies.
In Nigeria, the Yoruba ruler Airowayoye 1 of Orangun-ila wears a similar costume to the Elephant Mask Costume seen in Cameroon. Airowayoye 1 wears a beaded veil that covers his face, a beaded scepter, and sits on a footstool. Much like art in Africa, each piece of Airowayoye 1’s costume holds significant meaning. The beaded veil is said to protect the ruler’s viewers from the power of his eyes. The beaded staff is a symbol of the ruler’s connection with heaven and earth and the height of the crown represents the significant class difference between rulers and common people and (Werbel). Medicines and other ritualistic materials are also placed inside crown to add to the ruler’s superiority and power. He must share this power with the ‘mothers’ or witches which are represented by the birds (O’Riley 246).
There are many similarities seen between the Elephant Mask Costume and the costume worn by th...

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...bers of their tribes. The significance of both costumes is shown by the rare materials used to present the wearers wealth and by the symbolic colors and animals used to decorate them. The geometric shapes, colors and animals used to decorate both costumes all have symbolic meanings rather than for aesthetic purposes, whether it’s to symbolize wealth, power, intelligence, strength, life, death, mortality, fertility, etc.

Works Cited

Dallas Museum of Art. The Kuosi. Online exhibition. n.d. 7 April 2014.
O’Riley, Michael Hamper. Art beyond the West. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2013. Print
Rand. Bamileke Elephant masks Cameroon. Rand African Art. Web. 7 April 2014.
Werbel, Amy. African Art. Saint Michaels College. n.d. Web. 7 April 2014.

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