Helmet mask (gye)

Guro peoples
mid–20th century
more object details

General Description

Yu masks, which are supposed to have been invented in antiquity and are owned by the oldest families in northern Guro communities, are highly revered and the recipients of sacrificial offerings. The most powerful yu mask is gye, considered the highest judicial authority. Such masks can judge disputes, negotiate peace treaties, and make momentous decisions on behalf of the community. They appear at funeral celebrations of honored family members and at other community celebrations.

Gye are thought to be creatures that in ancient times belonged to the beasts of the forest and mountains. According to legend, a Guro hunter brought the creatures into the village to receive offerings—perhaps to ensure a successful hunt and appease the spirits of the animals that were killed. Eventually these apparently friendly beings were immortalized in sculpted wooden masks and costumes, dance steps, and musical accompaniment.

The powerful horns and muzzle of a buffalo are combined with human facial features in this helmet mask. During performances, the mask is decorated with fresh green leaves attached to the rim and is worn with a costume of knotted fiber that the dancers used to extinguish the burning coals on which they dance.

This mask was repaired with sheet metal at some time during its decades of use.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 170-171.