Copyright © 2005 International Institute of Anthropology and Prehistory Foudnation. All rights reserved.


Thracian Tomb in Kazanluk
Please e-mail your opinion to
©Lolita Nikolova
This is an academic webpage
Nunley J. W. & McCarty C. 1999. Masks. Faces of Culture. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, no. 35, p. 310:

Kanaga Mask, 20 century. Dogon people, Mali; wood, pigment, fiber; h: 36 inches (91.4 cm). Museum Rietberg Zurich.

The Kanaga is one of the most popular of more than 70 Dogon mask types. With its superstructure in the form of a double-barred cross, the Kanaga mask represents a type of bird, an image of God with outstretched arms and legs, and the organization of cosmos into upper and lower zones. Like all Dogon masks, it is worn during the Drama ceremony commemorating a deceased male elder, when dozen of men wearing Kanaga masks perform together. This character also appeared in Sigi festivals, which occur approximately every 60 years to renewal of agriculture and human fertility.

A fiber ruff and hood are attached to the mask, and the dancer also wears a fiber bodice, overskirts, and armbands. The Kanada dance is strenuous and acrobatic; masqueraders bend at the waist and rapidly circle their upper bodies so that the tip of the mask strikes the earth. Late Ezra; photograph by Wettstein and Kauf.

The Exhibit link

Other Interpretations: (1) The place where the sacred dances are held is invaded by more than eighty different types of masks. Of these, the most numerous are the kanaga. The kanaga has become an emblem of the Dogon. It is so well know that is often used as an emblem of the Mali Republic. To the uninitiated, it appears to be a bird of prey with outspread wings. However, any attempts by art historians to put meanings to these famous masks are just guesses (Wassing, R.S. African Art:  Its Background and Traditions, African Art, Friboug 1968, p.102). The kanaga is topped with a short pole intersected by two parallel blades. At the ends of the blades are boards, which point upwards on the top blades and downwards on the bottom blade. The face in encircled by dyed fibers. For those who have attained knowledge through initiation, it symbolizes man, axis of the world, pointing to both earth and sky. Another interpretation links kanaga to the water insect that implanted in the soil the first seed from which all other seed sprung. The flat, crushed shape of the pole evokes the fall of the first troublemaker, Ogo, the fox. What ever the meaning is today, may not have been the meaning of the first kanaga masks. No one can say what they originally meant, not even the Dogon. All of these interpretations are included in the dance of the Dama. A dancer with rapid movement of the upper body sweeps the mask close to the ground, evoking the creation by Amma (Paudrat p. 101).
© Hamill Gallery of African Art
© 2005 (1999) Nunley J. W.
& McCarty C.
Balkan Prehistory. Human images with outstretched arms and legs. Comparable table.
Balkan Prehistory. Human images with outstretched arms and legs. Comparable table.