Volltext: Anthropos, 79.1984

iropos 79. 1984: 1-12 
Mask and Masking: A Survey of Their Universal 
Application to Theatre Practice 
Wh A. Ebong 
Mask Characteristics and Attributes 
Quite frankly, the mask is a charismatic 
device sui generis; whether in its magical, ritual, 
re ligious, artistic, or socio-political conception 
an d application. Theatrically, it commands a 
Cognitive ubiquitous presence that could be 
distantly felt in the auditorium. It possesses a 
Co gnitive form, a consciousness, and an essence, 
f herefore, whether the mask is native, common- 
pbce, or exotic to the culture that uses it; whether 
!t is beautiful, placid, and sublime in form, 
structure, and appearance; or whether it is simply 
fierce-looking, horrendous, grotesque, and 
bl Zarre (like most African masks), a mask is 
generally presumed to be imbued with strange 
ftietaphysical powers and attributes. These could 
be (and they have been) translated into adept 
theatrical and aesthetic advantages both for the 
actor wearing the mask and for his audience. 
It is the peculiar combination of these attri 
stes in the mask which ineluctably activate 
Mbratory vectors that in turn create the strange 
tilings and atmosphere, characteristically native 
to the theatre - notably feelings of awe, wonder, 
a dmiration, and reverence which derive mostly 
* r °m paradoxes, such as those innate to attraction 
Inih Akpan Ebong, poet, playwright, critic, actor, and 
PUy director; honours degree in English (Drama) from the 
University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Master's Degree in Theatre 
from Michigan State University; member of the World 
leisure and Recreation Association (WLRA) and appointed 
l nto the International Commission for Leisure Information 
Exchange (INTERCALIX); since 1977 he is Lecturer at the 
University of Calabar, Nigeria, for Directing, Contemporary 
African, Third World, and Twentieth Century Theatre; in 
a ddition to his doctoral degree on “Utuekpe, a Nigerian ‘Folk 
Theatre"’ (University of Birmingham), Ebong is working on 
Urarnatic Theory and Criticism in Africa 1800—1980” and 
The Theatre Concepts of Wole Soyinka.” 
the mask has similarly been used for various 
geo-political, socio-cultural, and religious purpo 
ses, for example, warfare, divination, and rites de 
passage, even for exhibitions and tourist indulgen 
ces. It is virtually being used today in most 
cultures for the same or similar objectives. 
Historically, the mask is synonymously pre 
sumed to date the human society. Even though its 
true origins may be shrouded in an enigmatic and 
mysterious whirlpool, yet it could be speculated 
with some certainty and accuracy that mask and 
mythology share common origins and ancestry: 
both are living conceptions of the human mind, 
with the one explaining the other, and designed 
principally to teach, amplify, and reinforce the 
religions, history, aspirations, hopes, fears, mora 
lity, etc., of the community. Masks are, in fact, 
concretized and emblematic actualizations of 
mythological abstractions, specifically contrived 
to amplify, reinforce, and codify the beliefs, 
metaphysics, and cosmology of the community, 
including their basic and essential philosophy of 
life and existence. Therefore, its enigmatic origin 
notwithstanding, there is a considerable degree of 
unanimity about its artistic, religious, social, and 
other roles or functions in nearly every culture 
that has used the idiom. For example, it is almost 
universally accepted that the diverse applications 
of the mask idiom have their origins and roots in 
the religions, rituals, and theatre crafts of the 
so-called “primitive,” non-literate societies. 
Similarly, the Greeks are universally acknowl 
edged with scholarly accreditations for the “for 
mal” and “conventional” use of the mask in the 
theatre. Later centuries have equally followed in 
the footsteps of ancient Greece. Medieval thea 
tres, for instance, extensively used the various 
and repulsion, empathy and alienation, excite 
ment and alarm, etc. Apart from its extensive use 
for the myriad forms of theatrical entertainment,


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