Four-faced helmet mask (ñgontang)

CULTURE:
Fang peoples, Betsi or Ntumu group
DATE:
1920–1940
more object details

General Description

African masquerades acknowledge the presence of foreigners and their impact on local practices. The Betsi and Ntumu call this type of helmet mask ñgontang, a contraction of a term which means "face of the daughter of the white man." When the Betsi and Ntumu peoples first encountered the Europeans, they believed Europeans were the spirits returned from the world of the dead. Introduced in the 1920s, the mask has multiple faces with eyes that see everything, and it was a ritual object that fought malevolent forces such as witchcraft. It is thought the ñgontang replaced the ngil mask, which policed Fang communities and was banned by the French colonial government. When masking for this purpose was outlawed by the European colonizers, the mask was renamed and used for entertainment purposes.

The faces on the ñgontang are not identical but have different measurements, anatomical details, and scarification. The Dallas mask has two large and two small faces. The larges faces have brows formed with perforations and a black line drawn from the forehead to the tip of the nose. The mouths on these faces differ—one is upturned in a smile white the other is pursed. The male dancer who wore the mask looked through a pair of horizontal openings carved in the bottom of the mask under one of the faces.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 272-273.

Related Multimedia

Collections smARTphone video; Roz Walker discusses the African Four-faced helmet mask (ñgontang) (DMA Collection 1974.SC.33); Fang peoples, Betsi or Ntumu group
Learn about the Fang peoples.