The Marka are neighbors of the Bamana (Bambara) people and their artistic styles share striking similarities. Like the Bambara, the Marka fashion their masks with very small mouths with raised lips at the bottom of an elongated face. The nose is usually extremely long and elegantly thin and the eyes are cast downward, a show of respect used in many African masks. The chief distinction between Marka and Bambara masks is the Marka's extensive use of bronze, copper or tin sheeting affixed to the face with small tacks or brads. The intricate designs on these sheets is reminiscent of the ritual scarification of the Marka hunter. Small colorful cotton tassels and Cowry shells also ornament these African masks from the Marka. Where wood is exposed, it is often carved in shallow repetitive patterns similar to the patterns on the metal.
The antelope is a form seen repeatedly in Marka masks. Antelopes are revered throughout Mali as a symbol of the speed and endurance all hunters seek to attain. Some Marka masks portray human faces, others portray clearly antelope faces, and still others portray a combination of human and antelope features, usually a human face topped by the antelope's horns. This mixing of the species in the mask is thought to help the wearer acquire the speed and agility of the antelope.
These African masks from the Marka are used in ceremonies to ensure a successful hunt or a bountiful harvest. The masks are also used in circumcision ceremonies. Circumcision is an extremely important turning point in the life of adolescent boys, confirming his worth among his peers and legitimizing him as a full member of society. The circumcision is performed at the end of celebrations lasting as long as a week, and involving all members of the community.
The Marka people live in Mali and are also called the Maraka, or Warka, or Waraka. They are part of the larger Soninke peoples who trace their ancestors back to the Ghana Empire (also called the Wagadou Empire ) in the 9th century AD. The Marka were once prosperous and influential traders within that empire, carrying on a rich commerce with Europe and the Arabs. Today's Marka live as subsistence farmers and hunters.