Posts Tagged 'masks'

Object: Wooden Mask

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Accession Number: E/2014/3/012

Object: Wooden Mask created in the 1970’s donated to the Sam Noble Museum in 2014.

Location: The continent of Africa in the country of Liberia from the tribe of Dan (Gio).

Date: 1970’s (Exact date unknown)

Materials: Wood, Camel Teeth, Clay

Mask, Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Dan

 

Description of the Mask

This mask, which was donated to the museum in 2014 by the McGee foundation, comes from the country of Liberia from the Dan tribe. This mask is about 19 inches tall and 7 inches wide. A long forehead, prominent lips, and scarification all stand out to make this mask unique. Materials used to make this mask include wood, camel teeth, as well as clay for detailed decorations. Most ‘Bimbo’ masks were made out of metal and had some from livestock hair which makes this specific mask unique. This mask was made in the 1970’s with the exact date unknown. This mask was used in many traditional ceremonies by the people of Dan.

Who were the Dan?

This mask was created and used by the Dan tribe of Liberia. The people of Dan migrated to present day Liberia from Northern Africa in the 1800’s. The people of Dan are known for their warlike society. Power is very important to the people of Dan (4).  Most of the people belonging to this tribe were farmers. Hunters and owners of guns were usually seen as the most powerful to these people. Materials acquired to survive were mostly obtained through trade. Family is an important aspect of their culture as well as art. Dan people used art to express themselves (1).  Masks like these were very popular to uniquely identify a person behind it based on things such as economic class.

More, More, and More!

Like stated earlier, the people of Dan had a strong cultural emphasis on power. Their political system functioned similarly to that of a caste system. Families in the tribes were separated into quarters based on economic status in the tribe. Settlers and traders were the main two classes of the Dan people in the 1970’s. Hunters who owned guns were seen as very powerful in the society. Beneath chiefs and people in political power within the tribe, hunters were seen as necessary providers (4).  Food and other materials needed to survive could not be obtained without the confidence, courage, and strength of a hunter. Although people still feel that the country of Liberia’s political system as a whole is corrupt, many progress has been made in an effort to bring this social system to modern times.

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An example of a contemporary Gle Mask. Photo courtesy of Andrew Scott, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

During the 1970’s in Liberia, art was a big part of the culture in Africa. Art was used as a form of self-expression during war times in Liberia (1).  These Dan masks were made and worn only by males. Although it seems as though this would not be a complicated task, many steps were needed in order to even begin the carving process of the mask. Cleansing of the carver/performer and a journey into the woods to find a perfect piece of wood were some of the necessary steps needed to begin the ceremonial process. Once the ceremony that the mask is needed for is completed, it will no longer be used again. The mask that the man makes is seen as a sacred piece of art and is kept in his family from generation to generation (3).

Not only is this mask is well known for aesthetic reasons, but the Dan people had a strong religious connection to this mask. Although the people of this tribe did believe in a supreme god (their religious affiliation can be most closely associated to the Islamic or Christian religion), they did not think that human beings could reach them on their own. They put on ceremonies to awaken the ‘Du’ which they used to communicate with their god (3).  The mask was the center of these ceremonies accompanied by elaborate clothing items and headpieces (1). A lot of time, detail, and effort was put into creating this mask. Little things that were observed about this object such as holes in the sides so that it could be secured to a performers face confirms the authenticity of this mask (2).

((Kelly Jones))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

 

 

References

 

  • Duerden, Dennis

2000

The “Discovery” of the African Mask. Research in African Literatures 31(4): 29–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3821076

 

  • Leach, Melissa

2000

New shapes to shift: war, parks and the hunting person in modern West Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6(4): 577–595. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661031, accessed February 20, 2018

  • Maxwell, David

2012

What Makes A Christian? Perspectives From Studies Of Pneumatic Christianity. Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 82(03): 479–491

  • Putnam, Aric

2006

Modern Slaves: The Liberian Labor Crisis and the Politics of Race and Class. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 9: 235–256. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41940051, accessed February 20, 2018

 


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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