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African Masks and Fetishes

One of the earliest forms of art were the works of art made by African cultures. The study of African masks and fetishes reveals that this type of art was rich in the culture and history of Africa.

To understand the history of African masks and fetishes, a review of the history of native African society and African culture is necessary.  The continent of Africa is divided into many distinct tribes.  Each tribe however, possesses a uniformity in the following:

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The History of African in Relation to African Masks and Fetishes

African Masks and Fetishes

Of particular interest in African history, is the area of religion that encompasses a particular component of worship, the fetish.  A fetish by definition is an English word of Portuguese origin that means an object regarded with awe due to its inhabitancy of a spirit or magic.  The Portuguese most likely applied this to the African worshipping of certain objects much like the charms and amulets of the Roman Catholic Church where the term ‘feitico’ originated. 

Fetish Charms

In the simplest of terms, a fetish is charms worn about a person to guard against evil.  In the African countries they can be called by various names according to each dialect, but the implications for any fetish in African culture are the same.  They can be made of anything but must “pass through the consecrating hands of a native priest to receive all the supernatural powers, which they are supposed to possess.”

Once the magic doctor or ‘oganga’, through various ceremonies, according to African belief consecrates an object, a spirit will become localized in the specific object.  Anything that can be worn on the person can therefore become a fetish, once it is consecrated.  Africans use any small pieces of various items in nature such as seashells, nut shells, stones, and pieces of horn from goats or gazelles.  Because these substances contain some degree of a cavity with which the oganga fills with different matter, these types of objects are usually chosen for a fetish.

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