Editorials · Stray Thoughts

Genius Party and the Dance of the Canaga Mask

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It all starts with rhythm.

The first sound is that of a rhombe, a sort of plate attached to string, humming in the background, soon followed by the beats of heavy ceremonial drums. In the Dogon territory on the country of Mali, the period of death between the death of a man and his departure to the spiritual plane has begun and for this, a dance is needed to ensure both his safety and that of the village. This is the dama, the dance of the Canaga mask.

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From the moment the rhombe begins humming, the Awa – the traditional mask society – repaint or carve anew their masks. They then don long skirts and hoods for their costumes sown from the bark of the polio tree and adorn their masks with raffia. Everything is dyed a deep hue of red and yellow.

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When they emerge from their shelter away from their village, they emerge dancing to drums. The most important mask they wear, the Canaga, represents a bird on the ground, spreading its wings for flight. It hearkens back to the sky god Amma, the creator in Dogon faith, who is called upon for the ceremony.

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Through the dance, the word of Amma spreads its vital force across the land, bestowing life again to all of mankind and restoring a cycle interrupted by death. Life is brought back to dusty landscapes and fields become fertilized once more.

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During the dama, the wandering soul of the dead rises from its shell…

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…and the Canaga mask takes the lingering souls of the deceased, who now take the form of birds, and guides them into the afterlife.

After the dance has ended, the deceased belongs to the ranks of their ancestors and order is restored momentarily. The dead has transcended the mortal plane and the cycle is ready to continue. Now that both the safety of the dead and the living has been assured, life can go on accordingly.

____________________

Notes:

  1. Canaga or Kanaga, it’s your call. Art historians can’t really make up their mind on the correct spelling (similar to the Bambara’s Tyi Warra or Chiwara headress), so it’s your decision to make. You decide! Freestyle!
  2. Genius Party is an anime anthology made up of several anime shorts, but this one (again, titled Genius Party) is arguably my favorite! It’s an insanely well-animated short that’s only a 5 minute investment, so it might just be worth your time.
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