Liminality

By Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Bwa peoples, Burkina Faso, masks at market day. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

Those enduring the rigors of the liminal period are initiated into the sacred, secret, and esoteric information necessary for them to assume the rights and responsibilities of their new status. Once this educational process is completed, the third ritual phase begins. We may call this “commencement,” as when American school students graduate, for although the initiands have finished important work through ritual, they have done so not as an end in itself, but to begin new lives. Celebrations of “rebirth” often include performances by initiands, who demonstrate their newfound knowledge, skills, and stamina. Some of the most dramatic masked performances in Africa occur as young people regain their communities after initiation. Energetic acrobatic dances show the strength and resolve of the initiated to assume more significant places in society.

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Burkina Faso; Bwa peoples. Plank Masquerade. Video by Christopher D. Roy.