moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark, tuareg, elusive hunters, ida nicolaisen

Bird Mask – Chad

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We know – it’s too late for Halloween inspiration! Nevertheless, this mask deserves some attention, not least because of the effort it must have taken to wear it.

Made to resemble a bird’s head – more specifically the head of a large Ground Hornbil (Burvorvus Abyssinicus) – the mask was collected by Johannes & Ida Nicolaisen in 1963’s Chad, where it was used as a disguise for Haddad hunters when closing in on game. As the collectors describe it:

The mask is carved from wood of the Kafi (Kanembu) tree, alias Calotropis Precera. The beak is open and the bird’s forehed is decorated with a piece of blackish sheepskin. A cowry Shell  (Cyprian moneta) surrounded by tiny red beads glued to the mask with resin, do for the bird’s left eye. The corresponding decoration of the right eye is missing.

The bird’s neck protrudes into a disc-shaped enlargement which is tied to the hunter’s forehead with two strings of goat leather. A third string is held in the mouth to steady the mask when closing in on the game.

– J & I Nicolaisen

Imagine balancing this with the help of three strings, while also concentrating on your target!

/ Ciara Coogan


Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.

Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck,

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