By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Katana artist

Buffalo mask


H. 14 cm (5 ½”)

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.544

The powerful forces of nature regularly intervene to provide fertility of both humans and of the fields on which farmers depend for sustenance.  A symbol of this power throughout Africa is the great bush buffalo, one of the most feared of African mammals.  Among Mama (Katana) peoples of northern Nigeria masks that represent the bush cow are used by a secret society to which only men can belong, which is called mangam.  The purpose of the society is to insure agricultural fertility and the general well-being of the community.  The power of the society is transmitted through the ancestors, who have the ability to intervene with the nature spirits on behalf of their descendants, and the Mama (Katana) say that these masked spirits are the ancestors returned from the grave.