The keepers of the ‘Kanaga Mask’ are the people of Dogon in the Sanga region, it is one of the most popular masks in the region. Just like other masks in the Dogon tribe, the Kanaga masks are mostly worn during a ritual called “dama”.
You should note that the Dogon tribe are natives of the central plateau region of Mali, in West Africa, south of the Niger bend towards the city of Bandiagara, Alongside Burkina Faso. There are between 400,000 and 800,000 people within the Dogon ethnic group.
The main aim of the “Dama” rituals is to transport the souls of deceased family members away from the village and enhance the descendants’ prestige through exceptional masked performances and generous displays of hospitality. The ritual is organised by members of a male initiation society with ritual and political roles within Dogon society. This society is called ‘Awa’, they are also responsible for the creation and performance of the masks.
According to a French anthropologist, Marcel Griaule, in 1935 he witnessed at the “dama” ritual that the Kanaga mask was mostly worn, out of 74 masks it had 27 of the Kanaga type.
The Kanaga mask has a rectangular box face with deeply hollowed channels for the eyes. It has a superstructure above the face, a double-barred cross with short vertical elements projecting from the ends of the horizontal bars; this identifies the mask as a Kanaga. The abstract form has two levels of interpretation, the first interpretation is a representation of a bird which symbolises the creative force of the god and the arrangement of the universe. The second interpretation: the upper crossbar symbolises the sky and the earth.
When the Kanaga mask is worn, the dancer’s head is with a hood composed of plaited fibre strips dyed black and yellow with a short fibre fringe attached to the mask’s wooden part. Also, the dancer’s face is framed with a ruff of red and yellow fibres and wears a black vest woven of fibre and embroidered with white cowry shells and fibre armbands at the wrists and elbows. The dancer also wears a long skirt of loosely strung, curly black fibres and a short overskirt made of straight red and yellow fibres which are worn over trousers.
During the ‘dama’ ritual, there are more than 80 different types of masks made of wood and fibre that represent various human characters familiar to the Dogon community like hunters, warriors, healers, women, and people from neighbouring ethnic groups. They can probably depict animals, birds, objects and abstract concepts.