Teaching Ideas

Early Learning

For Ages 3-5


  • Look at a map of the world and locate Africa. If you wanted to visit Africa, how would you get there?
  • What kinds of animals might we see in Africa? Look at contextual images of Africa to spark ideas and discussion. Are the animals the same or different from where you live?

Art Discussion

  • This work of art is meant to be worn as a mask. Have you worn a mask before? What kind of mask? How did it feel to wear a mask? Did you act differently when you wore the mask?
  • This mask was created and used by the Bamileke people for a special ceremony of the Elephant Mask Society. What parts remind you of an elephant? What parts remind you of a human?
  • The Elephant Mask Society is a group of men who are royalty or warriors among the Bamileke people. They consider the elephant to be the king’s animal. Why is an elephant a good choice for a king?
  • If you were to make a mask to represent yourself, what animal would you choose and why? Look at a contextual image of a person wearing this mask and imagine how you would move while wearing this mask. Move your body the way you imagine an elephant might move.
  • Look at an image of a Helmet mask (mukenga) (1998.11) made by the Kuba people, which also represents an elephant. How are the two masks different? How are they the same?

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • What aspects of this mask look like an elephant? What qualities of an elephant might the wearer of this mask want to embody?
  • How does this mask change the identity of its wearer? Why might this be important during a ritual?
  • Most of the materials which make up this costume are rare and expensive to the Bamileke people. Why might the Bamileke people value beads and feathers? How does our society assign value to objects? Are there objects that we find valuable which other cultures might not?
  • This elephant mask is an example of a composite mask, possessing human and animal features. What are some examples of human/animal hybrids from myths or legends outside of the Bamileke culture? What qualities are traditionally ascribed to them? Why might hybrid creatures be so common across cultures?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • This Helmet Mask (mukenga) (1998.11) from the Kuba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo shares several qualities in common with the Bamileke Elephant mask. For instance, both are made of beads, both take the form of an elephant, and both are worn during important royal masquerades. What are some important differences between them?
  • Masks are often used to represent abstract concepts, emotions, and values. Choose an abstract idea (such as fear, happiness, duty, or wisdom) and consider what animal you could use to represent it. Create your own mask that represents this idea and animal.
  • The abstract patterns covering this mask are meant to stand for important cultural concepts for the Bamileke people. Create your own abstract pattern which could stand in for an important personal story or idea.
  • Research another culture (besides the Bamileke) that uses masks in ceremonies and give a brief presentation on similarities and differences between the two cultures and their use of masks.