TITLE: Nafana Bedu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Nafana
DESCRIPTION: Female Bedu Association Female Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Nafana people of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have developed a Bedu Secret Society only in the last century. It is probably a successor to the Sakrobundi Secret Society banned by the British due to the Society’s function of violently punishing supposed sorcerers.  The Bedu society is charged with the less malignant function of village purification during a month-long new year’s celebration annually, as well as during harvest festivals and funerals.  The bedu itself represents a mythical ox-like beast that, in Nafana myth, cured a sick child and later disappeared into the bush.  Although these masks are worn over the face, their exceptional size requires them to be made of relatively light wood.

Bedu masks come in both genders, with the male masks having horns, and the female (such as this one) having a circle or disc on top. Most such masks of either gender are painted in kaolin clay with abstract geometrical patterns, checker marks and jagged fins being favored.  Sometimes red, blue, or black pigments are used as well.

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TITLE: Bété N’gre Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Bété
DESCRIPTION: N’gre Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: iron tacks; kaolin; hardware; earth

The Bété people are closely related in ethnicity to their near neighbors, the We (Guere) and Dan peoples.  They live in the southwestern part of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  The Bété were historically hunters and warriors, but today they are primarily agrarian.  The Bété religion aims to harmonize the life of the people with nature and the ancestor spirits who oversee the welfare of the tribe.  Most Bété maintain their animist belief system.  Although they pray to a creator god, they routinely seek help through sacrifice of animals and eggs to supernatural spirits, including ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and animal spirits.

Each Bété ritual focuses on the maintenance and care of good relations with the world of ancestors, so as to assure the protection of the lineages. The religious cults give rise to numerous mask performances accompanied by music. The apprenticeship of male adolescents in dancing societies revolves around mastering the arts of musical instruments, song, and masked dance.

Bété societies have three classes of masks: kuduo masks are the rarest and most sacred, because they mediate between the living and the dead. Many villages have no kuduo masks, and none possesses more than one.

The most common type of Bété mask is the n’gre, which historically was used in a ceremony for restoring peace after a war, purifying the village of evil spirits, and presiding over dispute settlement and the punishment of wrongdoers. It is thought the mask was also used in war preparation dances to give the wearer magical protection and to terrorize potential enemies. N’gre masks can be made for dancing by adults or for training by young boys. Unlike masks in many other African societies, n’gre masks are not strictly controlled in morphology.  Considerable creative variation occurs among different mask makers. The mask on display here is an adult n’gre.

For more on Bété masked dances, see Armistead P. Rood, “Bété Masked Dance: A View from Within,” 2(3) African Arts 37-43, 76 (1969).

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
YEAR PRINTED: 1983
VALUE: 50 West African CFA francs

This stamp is one of a set celebrating the traditional masquerades of the Côte d’Ivoire. This specific stamp represents a masquerader of the Guro people performing the Flali dance.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
YEAR PRINTED: 1983
VALUE: 125 West African CFA francs

This stamp is one of a set celebrating the traditional masquerades of the Côte d’Ivoire. This specific stamp represents a heron  masquerader of the Dan (called here Yakuba) people.

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REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
YEAR PRINTED: 1983
VALUE: 100 West African CFA francs

This stamp is one of a set celebrating the traditional masquerades of the Côte d’Ivoire. This specific stamp represents a war masquerader of the Guere people.

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TITLE: Dan Gunye Ge Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Dan
DESCRIPTION: Gunye Ge (Racing) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: burlap; cowrie shells; raffia fiber; iron bells; cotton wadding; string; kaolin clay

The Dan people are a large ethnic group inhabiting Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. One important tradition among the Dan is the weekly foot race, held in the dry season. Racers wear masks like this one (gunye ge) to invoke bush spirits that will speed them along. Typically, a masked racer will chase an unmasked one and, if he catches him, gets to keep the mask. If not, the bush spirit did not favor him, and he must unmasked.  The unmasked runner, in turn, puts on his own mask and chases another unmasked competitor. The runner with the most wins at the end of the dry season is declared the victor.

For more on Dan masks, see Eberhard Fischer, Dan Forest Spirits: Masks in Dan Villages, AFRICAN ARTS, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 16-23 (1978).

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TITLE: Dan Kran Kaogle
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Kran (Dan)
DESCRIPTION: Gla Society Kaogle (Chimpanzee) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Entertainment; Secret Society; Social Control; War Preparation
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; iron wire; leather straps

The Kran ethnic subgroup of the Dan people, and are also known as the We or Guere, living primarily in the Côte d’Ivoire.  The Gla secret society of the Kran people are charged with maintaining social control, including judicial functions, as well as officiating at harvest ceremonies and funerals.  The kaogle mask represents a chimpanzee spirit and invokes its strength and cunning, formerly to prepare for war and exercise social control. Today, its role is largely educational and for entertainment.

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TITLE: Guro Zamble
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Guro
DESCRIPTION: Zamble Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Entertainment; Funeral
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Guro zamble mask represents a mythical animal resembling a cross between an antelope and crocodile.  It forms part of the trio of sacred masks with the gu and zaouli. In the past, gu was the wife of zamble, but in modern rituals she is represented as the wife of his brother, zaouli. All three masks are cult objects to which sacrifices are periodically made to bring prosperity to the family that owns them and to drive away evil spirits.  They are danced for celebrations and as entertainment, and also at funerals and to honor ancestors.

For more on Guro masking traditions, see Eberhard Fischer, Guro (Prestel, 2008).

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TITLE: Guro Gu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Guro
DESCRIPTION: Gu Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Celebration; Entertainment; Funeral
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

The Guro gu mask represents a beautiful young woman. It forms part of the trio of sacred masks with the zamble and zaouli. In the past, gu was the wife of zamble, but in modern rituals she is represented as the wife of his brother, zaouli. All three masks are cult objects to which sacrifices are periodically made to bring prosperity to the family that owns them and to drive away evil spirits.  They are danced for celebrations and as entertainment, and also at funerals and to honor ancestors.  This mask portrays a lion attacking an antelope on the crest.

For more on Guro masking traditions, see Eberhard Fischer, Guro (Prestel, 2008).

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TITLE: Dan Maou Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Maou (Dan)
DESCRIPTION: Koma Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Social Control
AGE: Late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: burlap; cowrie shells; raffia fiber; iron bell; cotton wadding; string; kaolin clay

The Dan people are a large ethnic group inhabiting Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.  In the northwest region of Côte d’Ivoire is the Dan Maou, a subgroup of the Dan. The Maou are largely governed by a variety of secret societies that use masquerade to enforce social norms and punish witchcraft and sorcery. The Koma society uses this anthropomorphic bird-beaked mask to detect and punish sorcery.

For more on Dan masks, see Eberhard Fischer, Dan Forest Spirits: Masks in Dan Villages, AFRICAN ARTS, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 16-23 (1978).

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