Special Exhibition: Nyau Masks and the Gule Wamkulu.

The Special Exhibition Gallery offers 15 Nyau Masks from the Chewa people of Malawi.

The Chewa, found through southern Africa, but predominately in Malawi, are known for creating fantastic masks connected to their Nyau secret society and
masquerade dance called Gule Wamkulu ("The Great Dance”). The Nyau (Nyao - mask) society consists of initiated members of the Chewa and Nyanja people. Initiations are separate for men and for women, with different knowledge learned and with different ritual roles in the society according to gender and seniority. The word nyau is not only used for the society itself, but also for the indigenous religious beliefs or cosmology of people who form this society,the ritual dance performances, and the masks used for the dances.

The secrecy behind Nyau incorporates coded language, riddles, metaphor, myths and singing. Viewed with suspicion by outsiders, Nyau has been misunderstood and misrepresented by others, including Christian missionaries. Some masks appear frequently in ceremonies, some very rarely. The wooden masks tend to be re-used, while others made of fiber or leaves are usually destroyed after one performance. The Gule Wamkulu masked characters play different roles in the dance, and their actions contribute to the overall function of the performance.

The Gule Wamkulu performance has a number of functions including educational, psychological, social, and aesthetic. The performance is instructive, thereby making continuous use of the Gule Wamkulu characters symbols of particular human behavior – the wastrel, the wise elder, the autocrat, the hothead, the communicator - whose parallels are obvious to the society. This is achieved through songs that are composed specifically to address current issues.

One of the core aspects of Gule Wamkulu is its ability to change and respond to changing contexts and challenges facing Chewa society, while at the same time retaining its core metaphysical teachings and social cohesion. The dance is also used to make comments on social and political issues. In bringing together the human, animal and spirit worlds, the dancers convey messages about topics within village life that are difficult to talk about, like HIV/AIDS or sex. Using humor and satire, the dancers also have the power to make political statements. They have the strength to do this because, while they are dancing,
they are seen as spirits, not humans.

George Malambo, a Chewa from Malawi, collected the masks in the late 1980s to 90s. He is initiated into the Nyau Secret Society which enabled him to negotiate with elders of the Nyau society for masks that were old and being replaced, or redundant, such as the colonial administrator or the Portuguese slaver.
Part of the collection was procured by the Witwatersrand Art Museum (WAM) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Prices are not listed on this website.  For Gallery price lists or individual prices, please send your request, with inventory number and title description, to: majtribal@gmail.com.

ml1: Nyau Mask
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ml2: Nyau Mask
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ml4: Nyau Mask
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ml10: Nyau Mask
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ml6: Nyau Mask
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ml7: Nyau Mask
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ml8: Nyau Mask
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ml9: Nyau Mask
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ml11: Nyau Mask
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Dayak, Borneo, Kalimantan, Dart Case
ml16: Nyau Mask
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ml13: Nyau Mask
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Dayak, Borneo, Kalimantan, Dart Case
ml14: Nyau Mask
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Dayak, Borneo, Kalimantan, Dart Case
ml15: Nyau Mask
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Dayak, Borneo, Kalimantan, Dart Case
ml17: Nyau Mask
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Dayak, Borneo, Kalimantan, Dart Case
ml18: Nyau Mask
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