Headdress (D'mba)

Baga peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
more object details

General Description

This colossal headdress represents D'mba, the universal mother, symbol of mature femininity. She is concerned with fertility as well as the prosperity and well-being of the entire community. Unlike other masks which were designed to cover only the face and head of the wearer, masks like this D'mba headdress were designed to cover both. Shoulder masks are often very heavy. This one weighs 75 pounds (around 34 kilograms) and, when worn, could make its wearer over 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall.

In performance, this D'mba headdress would have been adorned with carved ear ornaments and polished with oil. The raised patterns represent scarification; on some headdresses these patterns are enhanced with the insertion of shiny brass tacks. A strong male dancer wore the headdress atop his head and cushioned its weight with a ring of cloth or fibers. The four legs of the mask were attached at the bottom to a hoop encircling his chest and back. The holes between the breasts allowed the dancer to see outside the mask. D'mba would be dressed in a voluminous raffia palm fiber skirt that reaches the ground and a dark cloth tied so as to expose her prominent breasts, which are flat from nursing many children. She appears at planting and harvesting festivals, marriages, births, funerals, and ancestral commemorations. D'mba masquerades, which were suppressed by Muslim leaders in the 1950s, were revived in some villages since the 1980s.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • "Headdress (D'mba)," DMA Connect, 2012.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 140.