Dan Gunye Ge mask
The Dan have a number of masks that represent spirits of the bush and fulfill a variety of social, political and religious functions. Eleven can be distinguished by formal criteria. This does not however imply that the types can be associated with specific functions because the meanings of masks change over time.
The pierced mouth opening and round open eyes suggest that this is a racers mask (gunye ge). The circular eye holes permit unhindered vision when the gunye ge hold weekly running contests during the dry season to test the prowess of young males. The red on the lip of this mask is a symbol of courage and endurance, traits of excellent runners.
The mask is made of relatively light wood with a dark patina over its full surface. There is some damage on its left hand edge where the raw wood is exposed. The many small holes drilled around the outside edge allowed a head dress to be stitched to hold the mask in place on the runners head.
The left eye has an aluminium disk and the right has remnants of adhesive where a disc has been in place but is now missing. Generally the aluminium is a representation of white clay or kaolin most often seen on female masks as women's eyes are painted during ritual celebrations. But on male masks the colour white is a symbol of joy and is the realm of the ancestors.
On both sides of the mask there are cracks running from the outer edge at eyebrow level down to the outer edge of the lips. The broadness of the lips are indicative of the western dan tribes in Liberia, with a toothy mouth and rope beard. The beard is formed by quite intricate patterns of rope knotted around a central strand and frayed at the ends.
This mask displays elements that are strongly in keeping with the Gunye Ge (eyes, weight, attachment holes) and others in keeping with Bugle or Kagle masks (beard, teeth, large brow).
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