Painted face mask, Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, 1771-1860.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This polychrome wooden mask represents Heraya, the soldier from the kolam play, with his face covered in sores and leeches. It was worn for healing rituals. In some forms of traditional medicine, healing powers lie in people's belief in supernatural powers. In societies in which illnes is believed to be caused by the presence of evil spirits, a medicine man or shaman performs rituals, often involving dancing and chanting, to rid the body of spirits. Masks play important roles in religious, healing, exorcism and funerary rituals.