Painted face mask, Sinhalese from Sri Lanka.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A polychrome wooden disease mask in the form of a human face, used 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.