Dan Masks

Thursday 24 September 2009 by Florence

The Dan (also named Yacouba) are a farming people who inhabit the hinterland of western Ivory Coast and Liberia. They have a great number of masked figures who represent spirits of the bush, and fulfill a variety of social, political, and religious functions. Eleven different types of Dan masks can be distinguished by formal criteria.

The gunye ge or gunyeya mask (also designated by ‘running mask’) with its dark patina, is originated from the northern Dan. This is indicated by the carefully hollowed interior, as well as by the oval face with high forehead and strongly protruding mouth with full lips and animal teeth sharpened to a point (see picture n° 1). Circular eye holes that permit unhindered vision on the part of the wearer are characteristic of the racer mask. During the dry season the youths of different villages hold weekly running contests. The masked runner runs after an unmasked runner from the opposite team. If he wins he will go to search his own mask that he will wear for the next run against an unmasked runner of the first team. These contests tested originally the prowess of young warriors.

The zakpei ge or zakpai (also named ‘fire guard mask’) is similar to the first one. The differenciation is a red cloth sticked on its eyes. It gives protection against the wood fires which appear during the dry season.

The dugle mask, sometimes called ‘the cow’, is composed of a high forehead and cheekbones with a huge mouth which look like a beak (see picture n° 2). It is worn during important festivities.

The gagon mask has got the same function of the dugle but it can be more found in the north part of the Dan country. It has a high forehead, some slit eyes, a big nose shaped as a beak under which is attached a piece of fur and a moving jaw.

The go ge mask (also named ‘king’s mask’) belows to the secret society Go and is only worns on solemn occasions as for example the death of a chief. Its features can vary from a village to another but it is always attached to a very elaborated woven hood (see picture n° 3).

The deangle mask (also named ‘guard mask’) is caracterized by a band over the forehead decorated with cowrie shells and eyes painted with kaolin (white clay). It is worn by the person serving as mediator between the village and the initiation camp.

The tangagle (also named ‘singer mask’) is worn during certain festivals and looks like the deangle except its higher size and the more important numbers of details. The masqueraders dance and sing to entertain the population.

The bagle mask gets a elongated face, a low forehead and tubular eyes. Worn during festivals, its aim is to entertain the villagers. The masquerader throws objects to the spectators and hit the musicians with a stick.

The bugle mask is caracterized by a mouth with an exagerated size, a black and thick patina and a range of horns on the forehead with, sometimes, a feather hood. It is used to excited the warriors before hunting or going to war.

The kaogle mask has cheeks and eyes with a triangle shape. The masquerader is supposed to create a enjoyable atmosphear by throughing sticks to the spectator.

The glewa mask is worn during ceremonies linked to peace treaties. It has an high size and represents or an elephant with tubular eyes and a high forehead separated by a raised centered line, or a human face with exagerated features.

The Dan sometimes wore small masks (less than 20 cm high) called ‘passports masks’ sewn on a piece of cloth and kept in a small bag or attached on men’s back base. They are the receptacle of the spirit of the mean protected family mask which they are generally copied from. They will receive offers in exchange of what they will ensure the protection of the one who carried it when he is out of the village for a long period (see picture n° 4).


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