From masks to the symbolic script of the Ashanti, symbols play an important role in all aspects of African life. These sacred items come in a breathtaking array of styles, and here, divided into six areas of cultural similarity, are some of the most beautiful, along with explanations of their meanings. Demons, for most Africans, are responsible for justice and retribution: the superb demon mask shown depicts Kponingo, who belongs to the mythical world of the Senufo in the Ivory Coast. A calabash with the beak of a hornbill, adorned with cowrie shells and made by medicine men, is a typical instrument of witchcraft. Other fascinating symbols include sculptures, cave paintings, status symbols, and art for everyday use.
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Adinkra Adinkra symbols Akan-speaking ancestors animal antelope Ashanti Bambara Bamum beauty Benin bird brass calabash Cameroon carved ceremonies chameleon chieftain circumcision color cowrie shells crocodile crucifixes dance dancer death deceased decorated depicted Dinka Dogon earth elephant embodies Ethiopia evil eyes female fertility figure figurine Ghana girls goddess grave groups head headrests healing horn human initiation Islam Ivory Coast Konso Kuba Kwifon leopard lion living lunar magical power male Mali means moon motif MURAL PAINTINGS myths Ndebele neck Nguni Nigeria objects Ogboni ornaments pattern pearls pendant person protect proverb queen mother refers regarded Rendille representation revered ritual role royal ruler sculpture secret society Senufo shape Shona shows snake social sorcerers soul South Africa spirits stands status symbols stylized Sudan supposed trance tribes Tuareg typical upper Upper Volta usually Venda wealth wearing Wodaabe woman women wooden worn Yoruba young Zaire Zulu