These beautiful masks come from the Dan people of Liberia in Africa.
This one measures 13 x 6 inches.
The 350,000 Dan live mostly in the western part of the Côte d’Ivoire and into Liberia, where the land is forested in the south and bordered by a savannah in the north. They make their living from farming cocoa, coffee, rice and manioc. They also live off game and fish. The Dan have the reputation of being fierce warriors, always battling their neighbors, the We, the Guro, and the Mano. From a cultural viewpoint the Dan are close to the We populations situated in forest regions of the south, and against whom they have waged innumerable wars. Lacking a central authority, the various groups had neither a political institution nor unity. The village is under authority of a chief and a council of elders. In addition, there were male associations that attempted to bring about a socio-political unity, reinforcing rules of behavior, demanding absolute loyalty and obedience from members, and giving an initiatory education to the young. These societies called upon the tutelary spirits of the bush. The most powerful, even today, is the secret society of the leopard, the go, which, without having fully achieved its stabilizing and unifying goal, nevertheless grows from one year to the next. The leopard society acts as a major regulator of Dan life and initiates young men during their isolated periods of three to four months in the forest. In order to attain adult status, all the boys and girls of the same age-group undergo an initiation that includes, in addition to specific teaching, circumcision for the former and clitoridectomy for the latter. To underline the transitional aspect of this trial, it takes place in the world of the bush – the realm inhabited by spirits who, like the ancestors, can play a mediating role between humans and supreme being Zran.
Dan people have achieved notoriety for their entertainment festivals, which were village ceremonies, but are today performed largely for important visitors. During these festivals, masked performers dance on stilts. The go master, the head of the like-named society possesses the masks and guards them in a sacred hut. All Dan masks are sacred; they do not represent spirits of the wilderness, they are these spirits. Dan masks are characterized by a concave face, a protruding mouth, high-domed forehead and are often covered in a rich brown patina. There are a variety of Dan face masks, each of which has a different function. They may be the intermediaries, who acts between the village and the forest initiation camp, may act against bush fires during the dry season, used in pre-war ceremonies, for peace-making ceremonies, for entertainment. Over time, many among them have lost their original function and have been recycled into contexts related to entertainment, emerging only for festivals or events organized for visitors. Nonetheless, the great masks live on, their even more rare appearances being reserved for times of tension, when it is important they may exercise their role of social control and their faculty to reduce conflict or settle legal wrangles. The Dan also carried small masks (less than 8”), which are sometimes called ‘passport’ masks. They were sewn onto a piece of cloth and kept in a leather pouch and possibly worn in the small of the back. They are miniature copies of a family mask and sometimes received libations. These masks also act as witnesses during initiation ceremonies and protect the owner when he is away from home. Dan masks are the real treasures of African art tradition, ranging in their expressive powers from gentle tenderness to fierce aggression. (from randafricanart.com)
The Dan statues are not representation of ancestors or spirits. These figures, which were commissioned by powerful chiefs as three-dimensional portraits of their favorite spouses function as maternity figures with babies on their back. They are kept hidden inside houses and are only revealed during important occasions such as visits by foreign dignitaries Masks with bird beaks appear in "Kagle" masquerades sponsored by the men's "Poro" society. "Kagle" masquerades are designed primarily for entertainment and are named as a category for the hooked sticks carried by the masked dancer and his attending musicians, who follow him as he dances through the village. These masquerades are thought to be harbingers of good fortune, and, in general, they bless the public as the dancers sing and dance beautifully.
The long beak of the present mask,"Geayagle," is probably that of a hornbill. This bird is thought to help hunters seeking game in the forest. Hornbills are also symbols of warriors. Like other forest spirits, the hornbill may select a human partner when it wishes to participate in the human world of the village masquerade. It reveals details of forest life to its selected partner through dreams while also instructing him about the specific details to be carved in the mask that will be made for the masquerade and danced by the partner. Although "Kagle" masquerades and "Geayagle" hornbill masks are benign, they do have the power to punish evil doing when they detect it.
Superbly painted painted hand carved wooden jaguar masks from Oaxaca. This is a tradition form of folk art in Oaxaca. These vibrantly painted animals are called Alebrijes. This one measures about 8"x8".
These are tremendously beautiful masks from Gabon. Really gorgeous. Photos can't capture the spirit in these.
This is a female mask This one measures 12 x 7 inches. It is old and of high quality. The condition is as shown in the pictures. I'm happy to provide additional pictures if you message me.
I have metal mask stands and I'll be happy to provide one with the mask upon request.
This is some information about these masks from the Met Museum website and the Art Institute of Chicago website:
In the Punu communities of southern Gabon, mukudj masks are considered portraits of an exceptionally beautiful female member. The coiffure, featuring a prominent sagittal lobe flanked by two lateral tresses, is a classic style of dressing women's hair practiced throughout the region during the nineteenth century. Lozenge cicatrization markings were incised on the forehead and temples of Punu women as a form of aesthetic embellishment and a sign of sensuality. Classic mukudj masks often emphasize a subdivision of the motif into nine units, which is significant in light of the fact that, among the Punu, nine is considered a mystically powerful number and a catalyst in the healing process. In mukudj mask representations, the prominence of the number nine, as well as the red band that accentuates the hairline, make reference to the mystical powers commanded by the dancer. It is those powers that are believed to provide him with the talent and protection necessary to perform. The stylized rendering of the eyes, represented as closed slits, evokes a meditative serenity while at the same time affording the wearer an unobstructed view of the performance arena he must negotiate. The application of white kaolin to the surface of the masks is a reference to spiritual transcendence. The white clay is a sacred material linked to the parallel ancestral realm of existence and also a cosmetic associated with idealized beauty.
Mukudj dances are commissioned by community leaders to mark important occasions-to commemorate the memory of an important member of the community, to celebrate the return or the visit of an honored individual, or to mark a development that will enhance the community's well-being. The mukudj dance is performed on stilts of up to three meters in height; dancers must train from childhood to master the difficult and demanding choreography. During official celebrations, a mukudj dancer towers above his audience and executes acrobatic feats that demand agility, strength, and an acute sense of equilibrium. Because of the extraordinary nature of the performance, dancers are perceived as exceptional individuals who draw upon mystical powers to accomplish such a feat. The thrilling spectacle of mukudj performances alternates between passages of lyrical grace and explosive power.
Mukudj performances are appreciated as the most aesthetically appealing and exciting form of expression in Punu culture and consequently have become a national icon of Gabon. Mukudj masks are displayed as proud insignia of Punu cultural identity in domestic contexts in the capital, Libreville, as well as in rural villages of the remote interior.
This mask is defined by an elaborate and highly stylized bi-lobed coiffure, painted black, which frames an idealized female face. The face is painted white with kaolin, which both references the earthly beauty of the woman represented and symbolizes the spirits of past ancestors. The diamond-shaped scarification marks on the forehead and the square-shaped marks on the temples emphasize the perfect, symmetrical beauty of the face, with its dramatically arched eyebrows, almond-shaped slit eyes, small ears, delicate nose, and slightly protruding mouth and chin. Mukudj masks became extremely popular among European art collectors during the 1920s and 1930s, as their aestheticized and abstract attributes intersected with the ideals of modern art. Today the Punu especially embrace the mukudj mask as a sign of ethnic identity, thus often displaying them within their private domestic spaces and incorporating them into a host of celebrations and communal events.
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