Daily Picture Show

Portraits Of Africa's Amazing Masquerade

Gwarama Masquerade, Yegueresso Village, Burkina Faso, 2006

hide captionGwarama Masquerade, Yegueresso Village, Burkina Faso, 2006

Phyllis Galembo

Based strictly on her photos, you might not guess that Phyllis Galembo was born in New York. But after a few seconds on the phone, her accent says it all. "I'm not a very fashionable person if you look at me," she jokes — offering one self-deprecating reason why she might be so drawn to such elaborate ritual costumes.

A selection of her photos, focused on Africa, can be found in the April issue of National Geographic — a teaser, really, for all she's captured.

  • "On festival days in Freetown, Sierra Leone," National Geographic reads, "social clubs parade in the streets, led by an ancestral 'devil.' This fierce and fancy water buffalo spirit is the figurehead for a men's group."
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    "On festival days in Freetown, Sierra Leone," National Geographic reads, "social clubs parade in the streets, led by an ancestral 'devil.' This fierce and fancy water buffalo spirit is the figurehead for a men's group."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "An elephant and a bat pose at the Dodo Masquerade in Burkina Faso, an event where children don masks, sing and dance under a full moon."
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    "An elephant and a bat pose at the Dodo Masquerade in Burkina Faso, an event where children don masks, sing and dance under a full moon."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • " 'This strange character, which appears at a yearly sacred festival in Agonli honoring women, is known as "You Can't Buy Wisdom" at the Market. The mishmash garb may satirically make the point that enlightenment is never for sale,' says scholar Babatunde Lawal — a message that is part of the sacred event."
    Hide caption
    " 'This strange character, which appears at a yearly sacred festival in Agonli honoring women, is known as "You Can't Buy Wisdom" at the Market. The mishmash garb may satirically make the point that enlightenment is never for sale,' says scholar Babatunde Lawal — a message that is part of the sacred event."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "Wearing a mask made of twigs, cardboard, and beeswax, this youth [in Zambia] — part of a coming-of-age ceremony — is dressed as one of the ancestral characters known as Likishi," Galembo is quoted as saying by National Geographic.
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    "Wearing a mask made of twigs, cardboard, and beeswax, this youth [in Zambia] — part of a coming-of-age ceremony — is dressed as one of the ancestral characters known as Likishi," Galembo is quoted as saying by National Geographic.
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "Frills and ruffles lend a feminine air to this dancing joker, called a jollay, in a Fullahtown parade [in Sierra Leone]. Despite the girlish garb, the actor is a man. Like Greek theater, African masquerades reflect male-dominated societies. Women are often excluded because masks are said to link the wearer to a dangerous spirit world."
    Hide caption
    "Frills and ruffles lend a feminine air to this dancing joker, called a jollay, in a Fullahtown parade [in Sierra Leone]. Despite the girlish garb, the actor is a man. Like Greek theater, African masquerades reflect male-dominated societies. Women are often excluded because masks are said to link the wearer to a dangerous spirit world."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "I took this photograph when I was visiting the Cross River village of Nkim," tells National Geographic. "There was no masquerade going on at the time. But carved-wood, animal-skinned Janus masks like this one appear at funerals, ceremonies honoring Nigerian kings and chiefs, and other rituals."
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    "I took this photograph when I was visiting the Cross River village of Nkim," tells National Geographic. "There was no masquerade going on at the time. But carved-wood, animal-skinned Janus masks like this one appear at funerals, ceremonies honoring Nigerian kings and chiefs, and other rituals."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "The diverse Cross River region [in Nigeria] is home to a host of masquerade traditions," the magazine reads. "In the village of Alok a carving of the female water spirit Mami Wata crowns a costumed man's headdress."
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    "The diverse Cross River region [in Nigeria] is home to a host of masquerade traditions," the magazine reads. "In the village of Alok a carving of the female water spirit Mami Wata crowns a costumed man's headdress."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic
  • "Other spirits represent nature of esteemed ancestors who guide, judge, or entertain the living. They're portrayed with forest greenery and netlike facribs ... during Christmastime in urban Calabar [Nigeria]."
    Hide caption
    "Other spirits represent nature of esteemed ancestors who guide, judge, or entertain the living. They're portrayed with forest greenery and netlike facribs ... during Christmastime in urban Calabar [Nigeria]."
    Courtesy of Phyllis Galembo and National Geographic

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The article has more, but in short: Galembo, a photography professor at the University at Albany in New York, dates her fascination with costumes back to childhood Halloween festivities. She has spent more than two decades traveling the world with a light kit and film camera and has amassed an incredible visual record of costumes, masks, ritual garb and more.

Be sure to dig around on Galembo's website, where you'll find a much bigger masquerade.

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