Dogon Sim Kalama Nangala Mask

  • Tribe: Dogon
  • Origin: Mali
  • Approx Age: 1920's
  • Materials: Wood, cane, animal skin twine, plant fibre netting
  • Dimensions cm: 180 x 50
  • Ref. Number: 0651
£2800.00 (SOLD)

A beautiful piece of Dogon art from before 1950, this is known as a Dogon Sim Kalama Nangala mask. Provenance: Collection of Stephen R Primoff, Houston, TX. This very large mask is a composite of a wooden face mask and a flexible palm wood superstructure lashed together with a leather twine created from an animal skin, I know this as there is still fur on parts of it. To the rear of the mask is a very old netting which is run through holes on the mask to hold the mask to the dancers head and is still completely intact. The mask itself is stained from sweat and libations, when touched you can really feel how old the wood is.


Dogon masks such as this Sim mask are worn primarily at commemorative rituals for Dogon men. The face of the sim mask is typical of many Dogon wooden masks. A rectangular box with an arched forehead, it has two deeply hollowed channels in front. The edges of the box extend upward at the top, forming small “ears.” A pierced, diamond-shaped section wrapped in animal hide links the mask with its tall superstructure made from palm wood, which is lashed to it with strips of hide, and at the end of each arm it is finished with hide strips and feathers, the hide looks to have been a red colour when it was first made. The mask’s face is said to represent an antelope, while the top depicts a tall, thin spirit in human form whose body is constantly swaying. The arms on this mask both point up where you do come across some Sim masks that similate the Kanaga mask where 2 arms point up and the lower 2 point down. The choreography of the sim mask’s movements is among the most strenuous of Dogon dances, requiring the performer to swing the mask around the axis of his body, and to beat the ground with the tip of the superstructure.

Dogon masked performers, Mali - I wonder if they are heavy.  How do they move in them?

The sim mask usually appears as one of many different types of masks during a funerary ritual known as dama. This ritual takes place several years after the initial burial, so that the elaborate and costly preparations for it can be made. The goal of a dama ceremony is to escort the soul of the deceased out of the village, and ensure its transformation into an ancestor who can help his living descendants. The dama is also an opportunity to express the wealth and prestige of the deceased and of his descendants through the expenditure of great resources, performance of numerous dancers, and degree of community participation. For the dama of an important elder, the elaborate six-day ceremony may include hundreds of masked performers, creating a brilliantly colored spectacle of sculpture, costume, song, and dance.

Dogon funeral dance - Ende

Dama ceremonies are still performed, and new types of masks are created to reflect changes in Dogon society. Masked dances are also performed on other occasions, such as national holidays and the visits of tourist groups. Despite changes in Dogon economy, social structure, and religion, masked dancing remains an important aspect of the society’s cultural identity.

There are nearly eighty styles of Dogon masks, but their basic characteristic is great boldness in the use of geometric shapes, independent of the various animals they are supposed to represent.