DAN – Ivory Coast
Carved wood with red felt, tin and animal hair, circa 1930
27 x 13 x 11cm
Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea
Dan people classify surroundings into two realms – the human realm, and the forest spirit world (bon) where the spirits reign. The forest is regarded as sacred, and crossing the boundary between the human realm, and the spirit realm, may only be done by saying a prayer and wearing materials from both worlds. The masks are only carved by initiated members of the male Poro society., the mask protecting the young initiate against destructive or evil forces from the time of initiation, till he one day enters the spirit realm.
Once the male mask dancer dons the mask, he is transformed into a spirit. The mask dancer goes into a deep trance during rituals and brings forth messages of wisdom from his forebears. The messages are often inaudible and in uncontrollable utterances. A wise man accompanying the dancer during the ritual, translates the messages. The messages are often words of great wisdom, prescribing a way of life that will lead to longevity, health and prosperity.
Before the actual carving process the adult male cleanse himself, then sets off to the forest to find a suitable piece of wood. When he reaches the initiation camp, he commences with the carving. On completion of the mask, he carefully plans the song, music and dance, which are to accompany the initiation ceremony.
After the initiation ceremony the young man heads off home and is now ready to enter into serious relationships with the young women of marital age that will eventually lead to marriage. The mask will remain in the family and community for years, and will eventually be passed down through the generations.