African Art, Home Decor and Gifts from Nontando – Profile on Masks

of Art” if often an applicable description for the West African Masks you will find at Nontando. For the creator of our masks, they consider them as a ritual instrument or cult object for his particular culture.

Every mask you find here plays an integral role in the culture of that particular group of people. The masks have a traditional use; it has an origin and a fundamental significance. A new identity is created with the creation and wearing of an African mask. Its goal is to a reaction; hence many of the masks from Africa can be of an exaggerated expression.

African Masks are made to be used. Used primarily for a ritual, which may include rituals of myth, rituals for increase, agricultural festivities, funerals or burials, ancestor cults, initiations and royal and family ceremonies.

Masks can take on a number of forms and shapes. The most common are face masks, helmet masks, headdresses and crowns. For each respective form and shape, the size can vary.

Materials used can also vary though wood is most often used. Depending on the origin of the mask, you may find a combination of materials used which may include brass, copper, fibers, raffia, and cowry shells. These additional materials are often used to increase the efficiency and power of the mask.

Many of the carvers work initially under the guidance of a master carver and are often selected by the peoples of his tribe. Carvers are regarded as artisans that possess special gifts and talents. The most common tool used is an adze though carvers do also use a chisel, knifes and an axe. When the master carver dies, his best pupils often inherit his tools, which for some, was also a means of transferring the skills of the master to his pupils.

Masks can take on different characteristics including naturalistic features, human features, frightening expressions, abstract features, animal features and superstructures.

Tribal styles vary by country by tribe. Nontando attempts each year, on our annual buying trip to the African continent, to showcase a diverse selection of these styles, which primarily originate from the likes of Mali, Liberia, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Congo, and also Tanzania and Zambia.



African Art, Home Decor and Gifts from Nontando – Profile on Beadwork

Beads and beadwork have tremendous symbolic meaning across all regions of Africa. From the Zulu of South Africa were beads are used as a message of love, to the kingdom of Benin were the use and wearing of beads is strictly worn and controlled by royalty.

Colors and patterns of beadwork adornment come to signify wider issues, from place of origin, to marital status, to religious beliefs, to fashion, even to political allegiances.

Ndebele beadwork is associated with the female status and female creativity and often displays the life-cycle stage of the wearer. The Yoruba of Nigeria associate beads with the power of gods and kings. In Kenya, the Massai used beadwork as a means to identify social institutions in the form of body decoration.

African beads can comprise of brass, copper, gold, silver, iron, various gemstones, wood, seeds, shells and glass. Beads from Africa can date back to as old as the 15th century with the arrival of European traders, following the Portuguese exploration of the African coastline.

Beads are traded widely within Africa, with specialist bead dealers and bead markets still found. African people often create new uses ranging from a single strung bead, through simple and multiple strands to beaded regalia and furniture such as royal thrones. Bead workers also produced beaded robes, cushions, staffs, and other items intended to demonstrate royal wealth and power.

Beadwork most often appears in many color combinations and can be worn by children and adults of both sexes. For the Zulu tribe, it is most often first worn by young adults as the vast majority of Zulu beadwork items are primarily associated with courtship and relations between the sexes.  In general, the more variation of color would indicate the more specific, and therefore personal, the message it could convey to the recipient.

The Massai of Kenya has its origins in the familiar triad of basic colors, red, white and black. As other color of beads became more readily available in the twentieth century we found that different Kenyan groups such as Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Nandi and the Massai, were often distinguished by the prominent use of a particular color.

ImageImageImageThe interplay of similarity and difference of beadwork across Africa and its peoples reflects and responds to the fluidity of ethnic identities across the region.