Dan Tribe and sub Tribes Guere and Yacouba live in Western Ivory coast (Côte
d'Ivoire) and Liberia. They are
people from the rainforest. Their traditional masks and masquerades
are some of the best known in Western countries.
masquerades are usually performed by male associations for rituals,
education, social control and entertainment. Masks were thought to embody
the most powerful of spirit forces called gle. Each gle has its own
character. These bush spirits and masquerades brought control and order to
There are a variety
of Dan face masks, each of which has a different function:
Masks with round eyes that project outwards are usually Bugle masks, which
today are used at planting time to aid in the creation of good crops. They
were considered masculine and more aggressive. The Bugle mask is
characterized by an exaggerated mouth, a dark, thick patina, a row of
stylized horns on the forehead and, when preserved, a high feathered
coiffure. Historically its wearer dances and makes trouble in order to
provoke a reaction from the people watching. It was worn in pre-war
The Bagle mask has an oval, concave face, a low forehead and typical
tubular eyes. It is worn to entertain while the wearer dances, beats the
musicians with a curved stick and throws objects he finds in their way.
Round eyed masks are used in racing games and ceremonies in which the
masked spirit must compete against unmasked runners. If the wearer loses
the race, it means the spirit has deserted that person and the mask goes
to the winner, as a trophy to wear in the next race. Its wearer is
pursued by an unmasked runner or runners and, if caught, the unmasked
runner wears the mask and is, in turn, pursued. Historically, these races
trained men to fight and the winner gained social recognition. Nowadays,
the races are more like a game.
Zakpai masks have similar features to the Gunyege, but has a red cloth
over its eyes. These masks usually have a horizontal, usually red
band across the eyes and are used to enforce fire prevention. The wearer
monitors bonfires and punishes those who's bad practices endanger the
village. If a fire is not properly contained, the masquerader will
often beat the offending person with sticks.
Masks with softly modeled features, slit or downcast eyes which are
occasionally covered with white kaolin and often feature a vertical ridge
on the forehead are regarded as feminine masks, Deangle, an idealized form
of beauty and grace. Worn by the intermediary who acts between the
village and the forest initiation camp. They represent gentle spirits who
collect food from the villagers for boys away in initiation camps and were
used for nurturing, teaching and entertaining. White bands across the eyes
copy the practice of Dan females painting white kaolin on their faces for
Feminine masks, often more intricately carved than Deangle masks, are used
in singing masquerades and confer blessings on the village. These
masks are worn during entertainment celebrations.
Kaogle mask has triangular cheek-bones and eyes and its wearer is meant to
stimulate a festive mood among the audience by throwing sticks at them.
mask, or 'the cow', has a high forehead and a huge mouth resembling a beak
and is worn for entertainment purposes.
The Gagon mask has the same function as the Dugle and is predominantly
found in the northern Dan territory. It has a high-domed forehead, slit
eyes, a long, beak-like nose often with black monkey fur attached
underneath, and a long, occasinally mobile jaw. Originally an
educational mask instructing people on the importance of the hornbill, now
these masquerades are used mostly for entertainment.
mask is worn for peace-making purposes. It is a large mask, either in the
shape of a stylized elephant with tubular eyes and a domed forehead with a
medium ridge, or in the form of a human face with exaggerated features.
people also carried and used small masks (less than 8 inches tall) which
are sometimes called 'passport' masks. They were often sewn onto a piece
of cloth and kept wrapped in a leather pouch and possibly worn in the
small of the back. They are miniature copies of a family mask and
sometimes received libations and filled with sacrificial or magic
substances. These talismanic apotropaic (intended to ward off evil)
masks also act as witnesses during initiation ceremonies. True
examples are quite rare and expensive. Contemporary ones are carved.
GO GE MASKS
The Go Ge
mask belongs to the Go secret society and is worn to announce the death of
important chiefs. Its features vary from one village to another, but the
masks are usually large, and have an elaborated plaited coiffure.
The Guere, neighbors and considered a subclan of the Dan, make masks for
similar purposes but usually of a form that is more ugly or scary than Dan
masks. They are used for rituals, education and social control.
list is certainly not a complete one, as the Dan people masquerade many
masks. For more examples, I highly recommend
to see an enlarged view
who are also known by the name Yacuba, live in the western part of the
Ivory Coast and into Liberia where the land is forested in the south and
bordered by a savannah in the north. The 350,000 Dan people make their
living from farming cocoa, rice and manioc. Before unifying secret
societies were set up at the turn of the century, each Dan village was an
autonomous socio-political unit governed by a chief elected on the base of
his wealth and social position. Today, the leopard society acts as a major
regulator of Dan life and initiates young men during their isolated
periods of three to four months in the forest. Dan people have achieved
notoriety in the area for their entertainment festivals which were
historically village ceremonies, but are today performed largely for
tourists. During these festivals, masked performers dance on stilts.
Dan masks are characterized by a concave face, a pointed chin, a
protruding mouth, an upturned nose, a high-domed forehead and are often
covered in a rich brown patina. Similar masks are found throughout the
country, but regional stylistic variations occur. For example, northern
face masks tend to have very fine features, a high-domed smooth forehead,
eyes set in the middle of the face and a very smooth brown patina obtained
by immersing the mask in a pool of mud. Southern masks, on the other hand,
have protruding features and a rougher patina obtained by applying vegetal
Dan figures, which were commissioned by powerful chiefs as
three-dimensional portraits of their favourite spouse, are relatively
rare. They measure about 60 cm in height and function as maternity figures
with babies on their backs. These statues are kept hidden inside houses
and are only revealed during important occasions such as visits by foreign
dignitaries. Since the turn of the century, Dan blacksmiths have cast
brass figures which serve as prestige objects. They usually represent
soldiers or people engaging in daily activities.
Wooden carved ladles are given to the most generous and hospitable women
in each village. They have an elongated scoop and their handle is carved
either in the shape of a pair of legs, or a face or an animal head.
Dan jewelry, such as brass necklaces with ornamental leopards' teeth, and
armlets and bracelets with spherical bells, is cast by village smiths.
The Dan Maou people occupy the north-west part of the Dan territory. They
carve large face masks with chins issuing a long beak which are covered in
a thick encrusted patina (ii). This type of mask is feared by the
population as it has a judiciary function and is worn to denounce
spell-casters. Dan Maou masks can also be recognized by the triple incised
grooves on their edges. Dan Kran people inhabit the southern part of the
Dan territory and have powerful carved masks with geometric triangular