Public Release: 

Influence of women on mask rituals revealed

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Contrary to the prevailing view, Dutch research has shown that women play an important role in Senegalese mask rituals. Ph.D. student Kirsten Langeveld's research into the role of men and women in the mask rituals in the Casamance region of Southern Senegal has filled an important gap in the knowledge of such rituals.

Women do play an important role in Senegalese mask rituals, whether they wear a mask or not. Langeveld investigated the role of both men and women in mask rituals in the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. The mask performances often express ritual male supremacy. Furthermore, the knowledge of mask rituals and theories about these are also dominated by an excessive amount of attention to the male perspective.

Langeveld discovered that women possess their own mask rituals. For example, just like men, women have a ritual to mark the rite of passage from girl to woman. During this ritual, women in the town perform a mask that is worn by a woman. In this manner women rival with men, who use the same type of mask in their initiation ritual.

In addition to this, women were found to make parts of the masks worn by young men during rituals that mark a change of status: they pass from boy to man. Women play a significant role in this initiation ritual as they contribute to their sons becoming adult men.

Finally, the women form the public. Without their presence the performance of the mask dance is pointless, because the presence of the women confirms the performance of the men.

In the study of mask rituals, female masks are not always recognised as masks because they often do not cover the face. Based on this insight and on how the inhabitants of this region define a mask, Langeveld has formulated a broad definition of a mask. In her definition, a mask or mask ritual is the entire dance, costume and belief associated with the ceremony.

The cultural anthropologist carried out her fieldwork in Southern Senegal. For her study the researcher spent more than 20 months in three villages and in the capital Ziguinchor.


For further information please contact Kirsten Langeveld (Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University), tel. 31-203-641-697, e-mail: The doctoral thesis will be defended on 11 November 2003. Ms Langeveld's supervisor is Prof. J. Oosten (CNWS, Leiden) and her assistant supervisor is Dr W.E.A. van Beek (Utrecht University).

The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

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