Face mask

Dan peoples
before 1940
more object details

General Description

This lustrous black face mask probably played a role in Dan boys' puberty rites, which were conducted by the men's Poro society, which educated and socialized males. It is a support for a du (vital force or spirit). When a du decides it wants to participate in human society and help mankind, it appears to men in dreams and dictates the requirements for a mask to make it tangible. The dreamer, who will wear and perform the masquerade, commissions a sculptor to carve a mask out of wood. Masks have human or animal features that may be representational, stylized, or a fantastic combination of both—a "composite."

Each mask has a name and its own paraphernalia, costume, and headdress as well as unique behavior, choreography, and musical accompaniment. This mask probably represents Deangle, a female spirit with a small, oval face and narrow eyes. The spirit—embodied by the wearer—walks and gestures gracefully as she collects food from the villagers for the boys in the circumcision/initiation camp. The spirit also reports the news from the camp to the village and vice versa.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 124-125.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.