Map of Africa
Natural History
Classroom Ideas

Geography and Culture

- Family Traditions
- Role of Masks
- Making a Living & Leisure Activities
- Healing Art
- Making Peace
- Origins and Identity
- The Meaning of Rock Art
- Spiritual Power of Symbols
- Community & Architechture
(Academy Library)
- African People
- African Animals
African Photos


Role of Masks in African Cultures

SUMMARY:  Students study the ancient tradition and craft of mask making, understand the role or function of masks in African culture, create instruments and participate in class projects. 

This lesson is part of a series. Select this text to learn more about the series and how to extend its usefulness. 

GOAL:  Students learn to relate different concepts and ideas involving masks to rituals in society, specifically initiation or coming of age. 
  • Students discuss how masks are used in rituals and how masks help to understand African culture. 
  • Students learn how masks educate the young. 
  • Students study the symbolism involved in various styles of masks. 
  • Students create a drum and/or rattle. 
  • Students can use their masks and instruments in performances of two African dances. 
  • Object Database: Masks 
  • Community Choice: Masks 
  • Activity 1: Papier Mâché Masks
    Grades 7 and above

    Paper (preferably recycled), wheat paste or Vano liquid starch mixed in equal proportions with water, bowl, spoon, white glue, balloons or crumpled newspaper (for form), scissors, black markers, string and other decorative items and paint.


       1. Cut paper into 1-inch strips.

       2. Mix wheat paste or starch as directed.

       3. Inflate balloon. Tape crumpled newspaper in place if desired.

       4. Begin by dipping the newspaper strips into the paste. Gently squeeze off any extra liquid.

       5. Apply moistened papers to the balloon form by overlapping and layering. The mask should be covered with approximately five layers of paper for strength.

       6. When the mask is completely dry, you can paint it as desired. To make tempera paints into an acrylic like substance, add 1/2 cup of white glue to 1 cup of paint.

       7. Masks must be completely dry before painting.

       8. Decorate. For more fun, a glue gun can be used to stick on beads, string, fabrics, feathers, sequins, broken shells, coins, beans or macaroni. Be creative!

    Activity 2: Paper Plate Mask Making
    Grades 6 and below

    Paper plates, black markers, markers, hole punchers, colorful yarn for ties, pipe cleaners, feathers, hair, textiles, shells, glue, staplers and sheets of white paper.


     On a white sheet of paper, have the students practice their mask design in pencil. When design is complete, students may draw their design on the paper plate with a black marker and begin to decorate. Feathers can be stapled on the top of the mask. Pipe cleaners, textiles, feathers and shells may be glued on for texture. Be creative! Punch holes for ties on the side and on the bottom for fringe.

     Activity 3: Drum Making
    Grades 7 and above

    32 oz. Styrofoam cups, glue, hole punchers, twine, paper trash bags, oil pastels, masking tape, markers and paper towels.


       1. Glue cups bottom to bottom and let dry.

       2. Cut four 6-inch diameter paper circles and glue two circles together. You will end up with two double-ply circles.

       3. Decorate drum.

       4. Punch ten holes with hole puncher along the borders of both circles. Place and glue circles on to the top and bottom of drum.

       5. Cut several strands of twine and begin to sew from top to bottom.

       6. Crumple paper towels in a "J" shape and wrap with masking tape, or wrap paper towels around wooden sticks, to create drum sticks.

    Grades 6 and below

    Coffee cans varying sizes, can opener, duct tape, colored paper, scissors, masking tape and colorful yarn.


       1. Remove the top and bottom lids from your coffee can with a can opener. Beware of the sharp edges. Pound down any rough edges, or cover them with tape.

       2. Place the duct tape over one end of the coffee can. Start by placing a strip of tape over the middle of the can. Place another strip of tape is placed perpendicular across the coffee can to form a cross. Add more strips of tape and overlap each strip until the top of the can is completely covered in a lattice pattern. Each strand of tape should be pulled tightly. Place a strand of tape around the edge of the coffee can in order to cover the ends of the strands of tape.

       3. Cover the outside of the coffee can with colored paper using masking tape to attach the paper to can.

       4. Place a strand of yarn on one end of the can. Turn the can upside down and continue to cover the can with yarn from top to bottom, back and forth. You may use different types and colors of yarn as you go. When the coffee can is completely covered, tie a knot at either the top or bottom of your drum.

       5. When you are done, you may want to make more drums and create a band. Note that different sizes of cans produce different sounds.

    Activity 4: Rattle
    Grades 7 and above

    Balloons, 1-1/2 inch strips of newspaper, art glue or papier mâché glue, rice or beans, 8-inch long sticks, tape, acrylic paint, brushes and paper clips.


       1. Blow up balloons until they are the size of a grapefruit, and tie a knot at the end. Place a paper clip through the knot and tape the clip together. The paper clip will keep your balloon from moving around and at the end will be used to hang your balloon.

       2. Place the strands of paper in papier mache glue or paste and squeeze out any excess glue on your paper. Place the strands of paper over the balloon and be sure they are placed smoothly to create a great rattle. Repeat this process until the balloon is covered. You may recover up to three layers of paper, but make sure that each and every layer is smooth.

       3. Hang the balloon by the paper clip on a wall. It should dry in a day or two. When it is dry, take out the paper clip carefully, pop the balloon and remove it from the rattle.

       4. You may now fill your rattle 1/3 full with beans or rice (be careful and do not fill it all the way because then your stick will not fit). Place the stick in the hole until it reaches the top of the papier mache rattle and fasten it with tape. Decorate with symbols and create beautiful music.

      Grades 6 and below

      Frozen orange juice cans or small milk cartons, wood sticks, glue, paint, pens, brushes, and rice or beans.


      Empty the can or carton, and make a hole on the bottom for the stick to go through. Place the filler of your choice inside, insert stick and glue in place. Decorate with paints. Make music!

    Extra Activity: Song and Dance
    Grades 6 and below

    Masks and rattles from previous activities.


    Students can perform a dance and make music with their masks, rattles and drums in the classroom. Listed below are two dances, the Kanaga and the Banu Tamma, from the Dogon culture.


    Three steps to the left.
    Three steps to the right.
    Jump in place several times.
    Stamping of feet with arms stretched out to the front and then to the side.

     Banu Tamma

    Several steps forward, touching the ground with the mask.
    Several steps backward and touch the ground.


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    Material on this page was contibuted by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art with the generous support of Disneyland

    Activity developed by Jim Angus.